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Uneven global COVID vaccine supply could have ‘deadly effect,’ Red Cross warns

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned of a “deadly and devastating effect” as wealthy nations snap up COVID-19 vaccines, and unveiled a $110 million plan to support equitable distributions.

The humanitarian organization responds to crises and represents a network of nearly 14 million volunteers worldwide. The IFRC released a statement Thursday, finding that almost 70% of vaccinations so far have been sent to the 50 richest countries in the world, with just 1% of vaccinations going to the 50 most impoverished countries, per IFRC’s own analysis.

“This is alarming because it is unfair, and because it could prolong or even worsen this terrible pandemic,” Jagan Chapagain, secretary-general of the IFRC, said in the press release. “Let me be clear: In the race to end this pandemic, we are all rowing the same boat. We cannot sacrifice those at highest risk in some countries so that those at lowest risk can be vaccinated in others.”

Health experts have said that widespread vaccination on a global scale will prevent emerging mutations and ultimately conquer the pandemic. The IFRC echoed this, saying: “The IFRC is warning that, if large pockets of the globe remain unvaccinated, the COVID-19 virus will continue to circulate and mutate. This may lead to the emergence of variants that do not respond to vaccines, allowing the virus to infect people that may have already been vaccinated.”

The new plan announced Thursday aims to help vaccination efforts for 500 million people, by delivering vaccines, boosting vaccine trust, dispelling misinformation and including isolated communities in immunization rollout.

“Our plan is about making sure that those vaccines make it out of capitals and into the arms of vulnerable, at-risk and isolated individuals and communities,” Chapagain said. 

IFRC also supports a global initiative co-led by the World Health Organization, called COVAX, which works to speed along fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to middle- and low-income countries. The WHO is aiming to roll out 2 billion vaccines from a number of manufacturers by the end of 2021.

Agreements have already been established, or are in the works, to procure millions of doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Serum Institute of India and Sanofi. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Wednesday spoke of plans to supply 10 million coronavirus vaccines to developing countries through COVAX as well.

Shipments are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021.

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