World leaders from Canada, Ethiopia, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Tunisia have united behind a powerful call to their fellow world leaders to end the COVID-19 pandemic through equitable vaccine access.
In an opinion-editorial published in the Washington Post on Wednesday, the group urged world leaders to commit to ensuring that everyone, everywhere, can access the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
With almost 200 vaccine candidates currently at various stages of development globally, there is “hope” that one will emerge as both safe and effective, according to the op-ed.
But when that happens, there is a real and urgent risk that, as nations scramble to ensure access for their own populations, the world’s most vulnerable people could be left behind.
Those who signed the letter are: Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau; President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in; Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern; President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa; Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón; Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven; and Prime Minister of Tunisia Elyes Fakhfakh.
The letter begins with the urgent call to action from United Nations Secretary General António Guterres: “None of us is safe until all of us are safe.”
The leaders stressed that there is, without doubt, a “momentous challenge ahead” in ending the “deadliest pandemic of the 21st century” — but they highlighted that “immunization is our best chance of ending the pandemic at home and across the world.”
That’s only the case, however, “if all countries get access to the vaccine.”
“Vaccines are the most powerful public health tool and are critical for saving lives,” the op-ed continues. “Thanks to vaccines, we have seen good progress in reducing child mortality in recent decades.”
Given the number of COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently in development, the world leaders noted it is likely that one or more will soon be determined to be safe and effective.
“What happens next is equally important,” they highlighted. “This cannot be a race with one winner. When one or more vaccines are successful, it must be a win for all of us.”
“We cannot allow access to vaccines to increase inequalities within or between countries — whether low-, middle-, or high-income,” they added. “A future COVID-19 vaccine can be instrumental in our commitment to achieve one of the key elements in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.”
While global cooperation in terms of resources, expertise, and experiences has been proving essential to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, the leaders highlight that manufacturing and distributing a successful vaccine to everyone who needs it “will truly put global cooperation to the test.”
If successful in that effort, however, they stress that “we can beat the virus and pave the way for recovery from the pandemic.”
The op-ed stressed that there is an urgent need to guarantee that vaccines will be distributed according to a set of transparent, equitable, and scientifically sound principles to reach everyone, taking into account need rather than means.
“Where you live should not determine whether you live, and global solidarity is central to saving lives and protecting the economy,” the leaders wrote.
The group described a “managed flow of the vaccine” — including for humanitarian settings and other vulnerable countries, including the least developed and small island developing states — is the “wise and strategic course of action and will benefit countries across the world.”
“A successfully managed vaccine distribution will also be a cornerstone of strengthening multilateralism for the future… and an important step toward coming back stronger together,” the op-ed concluded. “We call on global leaders to commit to contributing to an equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, based on the spirit of a greater freedom for all.”
As highlighted by the op-ed, there are local, regional, and global initiatives that already exist to help make sure that a vaccine is able to reach everyone.
These include the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility; and the ongoing efforts of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
The COVAX Facility has been described by Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, as the “only truly global solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It will essentially work by partnering high-income countries with lower-income countries — so that wealthier countries can finance the vaccine from their own public finance budgets, and can then partner with lower-income countries to help ensure they too have access to the vaccine through voluntary donations.
The World Health Organization reported on Wednesday that a group of 165 countries — including more than half of the world’s G20 economies — have already expressed interest in joining the COVAX Facility.
“For the vast majority of countries, whether they can afford to pay for their own doses or require assistance, it means receiving a guaranteed share of doses and avoiding being pushed to the back of the queue,” said Berkley in a statement on Wednesday.
He highlighted that, even for those countries able to secure their own agreements with vaccine manufacturers, the COVAX mechanism is a way of reducing the risk of individual vaccine candidates failing to prove effective.
Join the movement by taking action here to call on world leaders to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can access COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, and to help mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on the world’s most vulnerable communities.