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UN chief calls for global plan to change unfair access to vaccines

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sharply criticized the “extremely unequal and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, saying 10 countries had administered 75 per cent of all vaccines and demanded a global effort to introduce all people to any vaccinated nation as soon as possible.

The UN chief told a UN Security Council summit that 130 countries had not received a single dose of the vaccine, adding that “at this critical juncture, vaccine equality is the greatest moral test before the global community.” .

Guterres called for an urgent Global Vaccination Plan to bring together those with the power to ensure fair distribution of vaccines – scientists, vaccine manufacturers and those who can fund the effort.

And he called on the major world economic powers in the Group of 20 to set up an emergency task force to create a plan and coordinate its implementation and funding. He said the task force should have the capacity “to mobilize pharmaceutical companies and key players in industry and logistics”.

Guterres said Friday’s meeting of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations – the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Canada and Italy – “could create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources”.

Thirteen ministers addressed a British-led virtual council meeting on improving access to COVID-19 vaccines, including in conflict zones.

The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million of them. As manufacturers try to increase vaccine production, many countries complain that they have been left out and even rich nations are facing shortages and domestic grievances.

The World Health Organization’s COVAX program, an ambitious project to buy and distribute coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest people, has already lost its purpose of starting coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time as the shootings. were made in rich countries. The WHO says COVAX needs $ 5 billion in 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council the Biden administration “will work with our partners across the globe to expand production and distribution capacity and increase access, including to marginalized populations.”

President Joe Biden has rejoined the WHO, and Blinken announced that by the end of February the United States will pay over $ 200 million in previously estimated and current liabilities to the UN agency, which Washington will seek to reform.

The top US diplomat said the US also plans to provide “substantial financial support” for COVAX through the GAVI vaccine alliance and will work to strengthen other multilateral initiatives involved in the COVID-19 global response. He gave no details.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the growing “immunity split” and called on the world to “unite to reject” vaccine nationalism “, promote fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, and, in particular, “make them accessible and affordable for developing countries, including those in conflict.”

At the request of the WHO, he said, China would contribute 10 million doses of vaccines to COVAX “in advance”.

China has donated the vaccine to 53 developing countries including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan and Palestine, which is a UN observer state. He has also exported vaccines to 22 countries, he said, adding that Beijing has begun research and development cooperation for COVID-19 with more than 10 countries.

India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also called for a ban on “vaccine nationalism” and encouragement for internationalism. “Overdose accumulation will defeat our efforts towards achieving collective health security,” he warned.

Jaishankar said India has been at the forefront of the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, initially providing medicines, ventilators and personal protective equipment and now sending vaccines made in India directly to 25 nations worldwide, with 49 other countries from Europe and Latin America to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands scheduled to receive the vaccines “in the coming days”.

Two vaccines, including one developed in India, have been given emergency authorization, the minister said, and up to 30 vaccine candidates are in various stages of development.

Jaishankar announced a “200,000-dose gift” of the vaccine to some 90,000 UN peacekeepers serving at a dozen hotspots worldwide.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, whose country is currently president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, called for speeding up COVAX and banning “unfair collection” and “vaccine monopolization.”

He urged that priority be given to countries with limited resources, saying “” it has been emphasized that these countries will not have generalized access until mid-2023 if current trends continue. “

“What we’re seeing is a huge gap,” Ebrard said. “In fact, I do not think we have ever seen such a large separation that affects so much in such a short space of time. That is why it is important to change this.”

He urged the international community not to create mechanisms that could prevent the rapid distribution of vaccines, but instead to strengthen supply chains “that will promote and guarantee universal access”.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, whose country holds the presidency of the Security Council this month and chaired the virtual meeting, urged the most powerful UN body to pass a resolution calling for local ceasefires in conflict zones to allow distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Holiday fires have been used to vaccinate the most vulnerable communities in the past,” he said. “There is no reason why we can not … We have seen it in the past to distribute polio vaccines to children in Afghanistan, just to take an example.”

Britain says more than 160 million people risk being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries embroiled in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

British Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward said: “Humanitarian organizations and UN agencies need the full support of the council to be able to carry out the work we are asking them to do.”

Britain has drafted a Security Council resolution that the UK hopes to pass in the coming weeks, she said.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, opposed the council focusing on equal access to vaccines, saying it went beyond its mandate to maintain international peace and security.

Showing Moscow was not interested in a new resolution. he said Russia is ready to discuss progress in implementing the only resolution the Security Council has adopted on the pandemic. After three months of difficult negotiations, the council last July 1 approved the secretary-general’s call for ceasefires in major global conflicts to address COVID-19.

Britain’s Raab argued that the council should follow up and call for a ceasefire “specifically to enable COVID vaccines to be carried out in those areas so affected by the conflict.”

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