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UNESCO calls for COVID-19 vaccines to be considered a global public good

Jose Kalathil

NEW DELHI: UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) have called for a change of course in current COVID-19 vaccination strategies, urging that vaccines be treated as a global public good to ensure they are made equitably available in all countries, and not only to those who bid the highest for these vaccines. Both committees have a long track record in providing ethical guidance on sensitive issues.

The statement was presented during an online event on 24 February, which gathered UNESCO’s ethics bodies together with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University, a statement from Paris said.

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“When vaccination campaigns were announced across the globe, the world breathed a sigh of relief,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “Without solidarity, we are far from achieving this goal, and over 130 countries have yet to receive a single dose and the most vulnerable, so far, are not protected.”

While some advanced countries have secured enough vaccines to protect their entire population two, three or five times over, the global south is being left behind. As things stand today, the inhabitants of many developing countries will not have access to vaccines until well into 2022. The latest announcements by the G7 are welcome, but they need to be translated into effective delivery of vaccines in developing countries.

“We will not end the pandemic anywhere until we end it everywhere, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Ultimately vaccine equity is not just the right thing to do, it is the best way to control the pandemic, restore confidence and reboot the global economy. So, I welcome the UNESCO ethics commissions’ statement on vaccine equity and solidarity. It is very timely. (…) Together we can end the pandemic!”

Professor Sachs called on the IMF to allow for developing countries to draw on Special Drawing Rights to finance the development of vaccines, adding that developed countries should show more solidarity and contribute to funding the COVAX facility. “It is a tiny fraction of the trillions that have been spent in addressing the pandemic. But it is the last mile to ensure that COVID-19 goes away effectively,” said Professor Sachs

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