GENEVA, February 24, 2021 — Poorer countries will most likely “bear the brunt of hundreds of thousands of needless deaths” from inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines.
This dire warning was given by the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in a video address to the High-Level Segment at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 23 February.
More than 130 high-level dignitaries, including heads of state, foreign ministers and heads of international organisations, spoke during the High-Level Segment.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General said: “COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on health inequalities within and between countries. Nowhere is this more evident than in access to vaccines.
– Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of The Commonwealth
“We must not allow this. Leaders of our world must come together to ensure that this does not happen.”
The Secretary-General also warned inequitable vaccine access could derail the global economic recovery and make wealthier nations lose money.
She added: “COVID has taught us that in order for any of us to be safe, we all must be safe. We must act together.”
This past year has enhanced lingering existential threats, including the climate emergency, the Secretary-General stated.
She reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s resolve to support small states and other vulnerable countries to protect the environment and tackle climate change.
The Commonwealth’s 54 member countries include 32 small states.
Social injustices including discrimination, poverty among marginalised communities and violence against women and girls have also been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Secretary-General called for inclusive development and multilateral co-operation, stressing that recommitment to human rights must be central to COVID-19 recovery efforts.
She concluded: “Human rights are not the panacea to all challenges brought about by the pandemic, by climate change or by the never-ending list of conflicts across the world. But the last 12 months have taught a painful lesson to humanity. We must learn from experience. We have to make human rights central to building back better. Without human rights, humanity is not a sustainable project. We cannot afford to fail.”
In the Caribbean, Barbados and Dominica have already begun successful mass vaccination drives, supported by a generous donation of several thousand COVISHIELD/Astra-Zeneca vaccine doses from the Government of India. For its part, Barbados has also donated significant numbers of its doses to neighbouring Caribbean countries, while reaching a milestone of 25,000 administered vaccinations within two weeks.
The Pan-American Health Organization has also indicated that Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are also to receive a combined total of 357, 600 vaccines under the COVAX facility by month end, but leading regional economists have estimated that CARICOM countries will need at least 19.4 million vaccine doses for the region to reach herd immunity. (PR/AMG)