UN Refugee Agency calls for equitable access to coronavirus vaccines for refugees

On the occasion of World Health Day, April 7, the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called for “concerted international action and solidarity” to secure access to COVID-19 vaccines for refugees, and for forcibly displaced and stateless people.

In a press statement issued on Wednesday, the UNHCR regretted that unequal access to vaccines and limited capacity of health systems could compromise the immunization of refugees, even if 153 countries included them in their vaccination strategies.

“The blatant imbalances observed in vaccine-sharing among states are counter-productive and short-sighted,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

“A ‘my country first’ approach just cannot work in a pandemic that knows no borders,” he added.

According to the UNHCR, only 20 nations are known to have vaccinated refugees on an “equal footing” with their citizens. Recent examples include Serbia, Nepal, Rwanda and Jordan.

These countries, along with many other low and middle-income countries, host 85 percent of the world’s refugees, the UNHCR said.

The Geneva-based organization said that while these nations continue to “generously host” to bulk of refugees, they are being plagued with “financial challenges and fragile health systems.”

“We commend these countries (those that vaccinate refugees) for their exemplary dedication and leadership,” Grandi said. “By including refugees in their vaccine distribution, they mitigate the risks associated with exclusion and discrimination.”

Reiterating its support for the COVAX Facility — the World Health Organization-led (WHO) initiative that aims to provide vaccine doses for low and middle income countries — the UNHCR said that it needs an additional 455 million U.S. dollars but to date it has received only 13 percent of that sum in contributions and pledges.

The WHO said that as of Monday, more than 604 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered, mostly in high-income nations.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday called it a “travesty” that not all countries had enough vaccine doses to protect their health workers and at-risk groups.