UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the UN Security Council Open Debate on ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity

As prepared for delivery

17 February 2021
FILE PHOTO: On 15 May 2019, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the United Nations Security Council.
UNICEF/UN0312130/Elias, UN Photo
FILE PHOTO: On 15 May 2019, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the United Nations Security Council.

NEW YORK, 17 February 2021 - "Excellencies. Fellow briefers. Secretary Raab — thank you for convening this debate. UNICEF appreciates the UK’s efforts to shine a light on the importance of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

"The only way out of this pandemic for any of us, is to ensure vaccinations are available for all of us.

"In this historic effort, we must include the millions of people living through, or fleeing, conflict and instability.

"Equitable access to vaccines for all people, including those living under conflict, is essential. Not only as a matter of justice. But as the only pathway to ending this pandemic for all. And to sowing the seeds of care, hope and even peace in countries that have seen far too little. 

"For UNICEF and our many humanitarian partners around the world, COVID-19 has fundamentally altered our responses, adding a new layer of complexity in some of the most difficult and dangerous operating environments anywhere.

"As this Council knows well, the violent and protracted nature of today’s armed conflicts has shattered countries’ health systems…damaged or destroyed vital infrastructure like water and sanitation…and spurred a flight of badly needed health workers.

"In this context, vaccine-delivery is also hampered by a funding gap for humanitarian support overall…and by a lack of transportation, cold chains, and logistical infrastructure to support the rollout.

"We need to reach the same populations that are routinely missed with basic services — like health, nutrition, and basic immunization — with a vaccine that will not only potentially save their lives, but help address a global pandemic.

"UNICEF is proud to support the WHO-led global response. And we’re bringing our decades of experience and expertise to this massive task.

"We’re working with our partners and governments to support country readiness. With our vast field presence, we’re working with local and national authorities on preparations and strategies to reach all people, including those in hard-to-reach locations.

"Using existing immunization infrastructure, we’re also working to reach people not normally targeted in our immunization programmes — including health workers, the elderly and other high-risk groups.

"We’re helping governments establish pre-registration systems and prioritizing which people, such as health-care workers, need to receive vaccines first.

"We’re engaging communities and building trust to defeat misinformation.

"We’re training health workers to deliver the vaccine, and helping governments recruit and deploy more health workers where they’re needed most.  

"We’re advocating with local and national governments to use other proven health measures like masks and physical distancing.

"And now, through the COVAX Facility, we’re working with Gavi, WHO and CEPI to procure and deliver the COVID vaccines in close collaboration with vaccine manufacturers, and freight, logistics and storage providers.

"And we’re doing so on a dramatically accelerated timeline. We’re aiming to procure two billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines by the end of this year. This is on top of the two billion doses of other vaccines we normally procure each year on behalf of 100 countries.

"With our longstanding work in humanitarian contexts, we’re adapting, adjusting, and assessing the specific needs in each location.

"This means, for example, ensuring that enough doses and syringes are available in each country, and undertaking inventories to ensure that effective cold chain systems are in place.

"It means procuring syringes and safety boxes.

"It means finding ways to ensure distribution and delivery in logistically difficult contexts like South Sudan or DRC — or high-threat environments like Yemen or Afghanistan.

"It means negotiating access to populations across multiple lines of control by non-state armed groups — areas that the ICRC estimates represent some 60 million people.

"It means ensuring that all population groups, including those who are routinely excluded from support, are covered by national vaccination plans — no matter their legal, economic or political status. This includes refugees or migrants, and those deprived of their liberty.

"And we’ve joined a global effort to secure vaccines under a humanitarian buffer that can be used as a measure of last resort. COVAX has set aside five per cent of its doses as backup stock for at-risk populations like refugees, the internally displaced and migrants. In short — a safety net for those not covered by national immunization programmes.

"But as we prepare for this historic rollout, we need the support of this Council.

"First — join our call to all Member States to ensure that everyone is included in national vaccination plans, regardless of their legal status or if they live in areas controlled by non-state entities. 

"Second — we need a global ceasefire. At a minimum, we need your help to extend the call made in Resolution 2532 for a humanitarian pause for the duration of vaccine delivery.

"And third — help us re-start stalled immunization campaigns for other diseases like measles, diphtheria and polio. We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against others.

"Over the last year, the global community has come together to develop, manufacture, distribute and deliver this vaccine in record time.

"This historic effort deserves historic support. Help us ensure that the light at the end of the tunnel shines on us all — including the families and communities enduring the horrors of conflict. Thank you."

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