Funding equitable access to vaccines will save lives, restart economies and protect us all – Dr. Robin Nandy, Chief of Immunizations at UNICEF

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Funding equitable access to vaccines will save lives, restart economies and protect us all – Dr. Robin Nandy, Chief of Immunizations at UNICEF
Published on July 12, 2021
Robin Nandy
Principal Advisor & Chief of Immunizations at UNICEF

As Chief of Immunisations at UNICEF, I know that in our globalised world, none of us will be safe from COVID-19 until everyone, everywhere is. The longer the virus continues to spread unchecked across the world, the higher the risk of variants emerging. As we have recently seen, these variants could be more contagious and possibly more deadly in the future – placing us all at risk and damaging the prospects for a much-needed return to normal lives and sustainable economic recovery.

At UNICEF we believe that vaccines are essential to bringing COVID-19 under control. As vaccinations are rolled out in the UK, USA and more widely, more of us are beginning to look forward to life getting back to normal. However, for many people the end is nowhere in sight, with cases and deaths rising in many countries. Vulnerable groups remain at risk as healthcare systems are under incredible strain, schools remain closed, economic progress has stalled and inequality is widening fast.

The deadly second wave of Covid-19 in India is a warning of the devastating consequences of leaving low- and middle-income countries without equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatments and resources to deliver them. While the situation is tragic, it is not unique. Cases are rising exponentially across the world and specifically in South Asia and South America, with health systems struggling in countries from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives to Argentina and Brazil.

A major pathway out of this pandemic is a global distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. COVAX, a joint effort between WHO, Gavi, CEPI & UNICEF, represents a collective effort in support of this pathway. It is a ground-breaking collaboration between 190 countries, to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of COVID–19 vaccines across the world – including the 92 poorest nations on earth. As part of COVAX, UNICEF and partners set out to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccine this year, enabling countries to vaccinate at least 20 per cent of their populations; this would cover all health workers and those most vulnerable to the effects of the disease. Many countries are aspiring to cover an even greater proportion of their population by the end of 2021.

COVAX has delivered over 100 million doses so far in 2021 but the recent surge of cases in many countries means that vaccines are in short supply. We must urgently re-double our efforts to reach our target. UNICEF, along with COVAX partners, is campaigning against vaccine nationalism, supporting dose sharing and the scale up of vaccine manufacturing to ensure there is adequate supply for COVAX.
Beyond the costs of vaccines, we urgently need funding to support country health systems in vaccine transport and delivery, strengthen cold and supply chains, train health care workers and combat vaccine misinformation. Moreover, we fear that if the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine is inadequately resourced, country governments will be forced to use resources from routine childhood immunization programmes, jeopardizing the delivery of other vaccines and risking outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases. We cannot trade one crisis with another and need to ensure essential services continue as we deploy COVID-19 vaccines.

The global vaccination race can only be won when governments, businesses and individuals come together to fully fund and supply COVAX and ensure that every country in the world has access to COVID19 vaccines.

We need philanthropic partners to support this historic effort to deliver fast and fair access to vaccines to people across the world…