Coronavirus: UN chief urges vaccinations for all - not just the rich

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The United Nations chief urged the world to mark the “heart-wrenching milestone” of 2 million deaths from COVID-19 virus on Friday by acting with far greater solidarity to ensure vaccines are available and affordable in all countries not just rich nations.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message that governments have a responsibility to protect their people, “but `vaccinationalism’ is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery.”

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“Science is succeeding -- but solidarity is failing,” he warned. “Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all.”

Guterres had urged leaders of the Group of 20 largest economics in March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, to adopt a “wartime” plan to tackle the coronavirus including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars” for businesses, workers and households in developing countries. He also urged the leaders to establish “a task force to have a combined effort to defeat the virus,” but the G20 took no action.

“Sadly, the deadly impact of the pandemic has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort,” he said on Friday.

Guterres said the world’s leading economies have a special responsibility to support the World Health Organization’s COVAX program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.

He also urged rich nations to share excess doses of vaccines, noting that “some countries are pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need.”

“This would help vaccinate all health care workers around the world on an urgent basis and protect health systems from collapse,” the secretary-general said.

“Others on the frontline, including humanitarian workers and high-risk populations, must be prioritized,” he stressed.

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Guterres also called on manufacturers to “step up their commitment to work with the COVAX facility and countries around the world to ensure enough supply and fair distribution.”

New York has offered vaccinations to people over the age of 65 and Guterres, 71, is scheduled to be vaccinated next week, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding that the UN will distribute photos and video to help promote the global vaccination campaign.

Volkan Bozkir, the 70-year-old president of the 193-member UN General Assembly, told reporters he will be vaccinated on February 2.

Bozkir told a news conference he has written to New York authorities asking that all UN staff, numbering in the thousands, be considered “essential workers” so they can be vaccinated.

But Dujarric said Secretary-General Guterres has not requested “any blanket `go to the front of the line’ card for the UN staff as a whole.”

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