“None of us is safe until all of us are safe.”
This statement by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres sums up the momentous challenge ahead. As the world is still in the midst of the deadliest pandemic of the 21st century, with the number of cases still rising at the global level, immunization is our best chance of ending the pandemic at home and across the world — but only if all countries get access to the vaccine.
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the world, and no country will be spared its consequences, whether directly through loss of life and health, or indirectly through its impact on the economy, health services, education and many other parts of society. The pandemic is disproportionately affecting populations living in poverty and vulnerable situations.
Thankfully, great efforts, investment and coordination — largely facilitated by the World Health Organization (WHO) — are being directed at putting an end to the pandemic.
Vaccines are the most powerful public health tool and are critical for saving lives. Thanks to vaccines, we have seen good progress in reducing child mortality in recent decades.
At this point in time, with almost 200 potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates currently at different stages of development, there is hope that soon one or more will prove to be both safe and effective. What happens next is equally important. 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. A future COVID-19 vaccine can be instrumental in our commitment to achieve one of the key elements in the United Nations’ sustainable development goals: ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.
However, manufacturing enough vaccines and doses to cover the whole global population will take time. While global cooperation in terms of resources, expertise and experiences is paramount for developing a vaccine, manufacturing and distributing it while leaving no one behind will truly put global cooperation to the test. But if we are successful, we can beat the virus and pave the way for recovery from the pandemic.
Therefore, we must urgently ensure that vaccines will be distributed according to a set of transparent, equitable and scientifically sound principles. Where you live should not determine whether you live, and global solidarity is central to saving lives and protecting the economy. A managed flow of the vaccine —including for humanitarian settings and other vulnerable countries such as the least developed countries and small island developing states — is the wise and strategic course of action and will benefit countries across the world.
Implementing an organized global flow of vaccines requires a strong multilateral mechanism ensuring mutual trust, transparency and accountability. A fair and effective vaccine allocation mechanism, guided by WHO advice and based on needs rather than means, should focus on saving lives and protecting health systems.
There are already local, regional and global initiatives to secure vaccine availability, including the important COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility; we believe these initiatives should be coordinated and mutually reinforcing. We particularly recognize the WHO’s role as the leading global health agency, but also ongoing efforts by Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) as part of the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. We also acknowledge the role of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) in making vaccines available and accessible for vulnerable populations in developing countries and fully support the U.N. secretary general’s important leadership in ensuring a coordinated process.
A successfully managed vaccine distribution will also be a cornerstone of strengthening multilateralism for the future — as was the Security Council resolution on COVID-19 drafted by France and Tunisia, demanding a global ceasefire in armed conflicts — and an important step toward coming back stronger together.
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.
Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada
Sahle-Work Zewde, president of Ethiopia
Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea
Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand
Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa (also chairperson of the African Union)
Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, prime minister of Spain
Stefan Lofven, prime minister of Sweden
Elyes Fakhfakh, prime minister of the Republic of Tunisia