COVID-19: IFRC warns of “deadly gap” in global efforts to distribute vaccines

Geneva, 10 March 2021 – Nascent efforts to ensure fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines will fail unless a “deadly gap” in global immunization policy and funding is quickly filled. This is the stark warning issued today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Much of the focus of governments and other donors has been on procuring and distributing vaccines between countries, including via the COVAX facility. While the procurement and international distribution of vaccines is crucial, too little thought is being given to how those vaccines will be distributed within countries, including how isolated and hard-to-reach communities will be included in immunization campaigns.

IFRC President, Francesco Rocca, said:

Efforts to procure and distribute vaccines between governments are clearly crucial and must be supported fully by donors. However, it is not enough just to focus on this side of the equation. Initiatives like COVAX ensure that vaccines will reach the tarmacs of airports in the capital cities of participating countries. They are inarguably important.

“However, they need to be complemented by initiatives designed to get those vaccines off the tarmac and out into the arms of all who need them.”

Last month, in a bid to fill this gap, IFRC launched a 100 million Swiss franc plan designed to support the vaccination of 500 million people. However, support for this plan has yet to materialize, with only about 3 per cent of necessary funding received so far.

IFRC’s Rocca said:

Our plan focuses on ensuring that, once received, vaccines reach those who need them most. This involves a range of important actions, including efforts to counteract vaccine hesitancy and to build community trust in vaccines. It also involves our teams going out and identifying high-risk individuals who might, for any number of cultural, linguistic or social reasons, be ‘invisible’ to authorities.”

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are already working with governments to vaccinate at-risk and isolated communities. For example, in Brazil, Red Cross volunteers and staff are vaccinating extremely isolated communities in the Amazon. In the Maldives, the Red Crescent has supported the vaccination of unregistered migrants, while similar efforts are underway in Greece and in the Czech Republic.

IFRC’s Rocca said:

Our message today is simple: we need urgent funding so that we can continue and expand vaccination efforts into all communities. Without this funding, a gap will remain between the vaccines that will ultimately end this pandemic, and some of the most vulnerable and isolated people in the world. Such a gap means that the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, and that people will continue to get sick and die.”

The IFRC also released a summary of its progress and achievements over the first 12 months of the pandemic. According to this report, the IFRC and its network of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has supported tens of millions of people over the year, adapting and expanding its services to meet the needs created by the unprecedented crisis.

For example, in response to the virus, Red Cross and Red Crescent water, sanitation and hygiene services almost tripled – rising from an estimated 38 million people reached in 2019 to more than 106 million people reached since the start of the pandemic.

To read the full report on IFRC progress during COVID-19, click here.

About IFRC
IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network, comprising 192 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working to save lives and promote dignity around the world.

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