UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore’s remarks at the Humanitarian Liaison Working Group on Equitable Access to COVID-19 Vaccines in Humanitarian Settings

As prepared for delivery

08 June 2021

NEW YORK, 8 June 2021 – "Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

"The last 18 months have provided a dramatic reminder of the importance of making vaccinations available to all, as the main intervention in ending a pandemic like the one we face with COVID-19.

"By definition, that must include the millions of people living through humanitarian crises. When the virus spreads anywhere, it poses a threat everywhere — especially as it mutates into deadlier or more contagious variants.

"But the vital importance of delivering the vaccines to people within these emergencies is matched by a series of imposing barriers.

"After all, these are places where health systems have been shattered.

"Where hospitals, schools, and water and sanitation systems have been deserted as resources dwindle and as populations flee — or have been destroyed altogether by the fighting.

"Where adequate funding and human resources are severely lacking.

"Where transportation systems and supply chains are already hampered by security concerns and barriers of bureaucracy.

"Where establishing — and maintaining — cold chains is difficult.

"Where children, women and health workers alike are vulnerable to violence.

"And where people are hard to reach and to serve — because they’re displaced, on the move, or in geographically hard-to-reach areas outside of government control.

"Taken together, these challenges make delivering and administering a vaccine into the arms of those who need it enormously difficult.

"Difficult — but not impossible.

"Over the years, the humanitarian community has built systems and processes that have overcome these barriers, and successfully delivered routine immunizations within these crises.  

"We’re now using these same networks, systems, and processes for the COVID-vaccine rollout.

"Our efforts also include the COVAX Facility, through which UNICEF and our partners are procuring and distributing the COVID vaccines across 92 low and middle-income countries, including those enduring crises.

"We’re working closely with governments to ensure that these populations — including migrants and displaced persons — are included at every step of the roll-outs through the national deployment and vaccination plans.

"This includes the COVAX Facility’s Humanitarian Buffer as the measure of last resort where advocacy or deployment fails. The Buffer provides a vital backup to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to those millions of people penned in by crises.

"But we still face a number of challenges.  

"First — We need national governments to live up to their obligation to ensure equitable access to the vaccines for every person within their countries — including those without legal status or documentation and those living in humanitarian settings.

"Second — We call on countries with excess supply to share their doses immediately. By pooling excess doses, we can keep these fragile crises from becoming the next global hotspots for fast-spreading deadly variants. This is in everyone’s best interest.

"Third — we need funding.

"Yes, delivering vaccines within emergencies is more expensive. And yes, donors have already spent billions to establish the COVAX Facility.

"But they won’t see a return on this investment until every person is vaccinated — including in fragile settings.

"Without effective delivery systems, vaccines are little more than vials on a shelf. Despite the higher cost involved, we urgently need more funding to get these vaccines delivered and into people’s arms.

"The establishment of the Humanitarian Buffer was an important milestone. But as a humanitarian community, we need to turn up the volume on the need for vaccine-delivery funding across all emergencies.

"And fourth — we need to ensure that we maintain, and continue to fund, routine vaccinations and other essential health interventions in humanitarian emergencies.

"The onset of the pandemic last year devastated these efforts, disrupting planned immunization campaigns across 83 countries. While 35 countries have since resumed these campaigns, 48 countries have not — leaving millions of children vulnerable to preventable disease.

"We urge that the COVID-19 vaccines being delivered — especially those in humanitarian settings including through the Humanitarian Buffer — are delivered alongside a full package of health services, including routine immunizations for other diseases.

"UNICEF is proud to stand with our humanitarian partners in this important work. And we look forward to today’s discussion as we take the next steps in our joint response. " 

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