UNITED NATIONS (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he will urge the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to adopt a resolution calling for cease-fires in conflict zones to allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
Britain holds the council presidency this month and Raab is chairing a virtual high-level meeting of the U.N.’s most powerful body on the problem of ensuring access to vaccines in conflict areas. Diplomats said 11 foreign ministers are expected to speak, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Britain says more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from coronavirus vaccinations because they live in countries engulfed in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
“Global vaccination coverage is essential to beating coronavirus,” Raab said ahead of the meeting. “That is why the U.K. is calling for a vaccination cease-fire to allow COVID-19 vaccines to reach people living in conflict zones and for a greater global team effort to deliver equitable access.”
“We have a moral duty to act, and a strategic necessity to come together to defeat this virus,” he said.
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward, stressed that it is in all countries’ interests to ensure that people in hostile areas and vulnerable situations are vaccinated because “no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
“We want the Security Council to agree to support local cease-fires in those countries where vaccinations are ready to be rolled out on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “Humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies need the full backing of the council to be able to carry out the job we are asking them to do.”
Woodward said cease-fires have been used to carry out vaccinations, pointing to a two-day pause in fighting in Afghanistan in 2001 that enabled 35,000 health workers and volunteers to vaccinate 5.7 million children under the age of 5 against polio.
Britain has drafted a Security Council resolution that Woodward said the U.K. hopes will be adopted in the coming weeks.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will brief Wednesday’s council meeting, has repeatedly called for vaccines to be made “people’s vaccines,” available to people everywhere as “a global public good.”
U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that Guterres’ “one big ask” of ministers at the meeting will be to “do away with vaccine nationalism.”
“It is clear that, in the path that we’re following now, we will not be able to vaccinate everyone at a speed that needs to be done,” Dujarric said. “It is fully understandable that each government looks out for its own people,” but at the same time the wealthiest nations can also “show real solidarity through financing to the developing world” for vaccines.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Tuesday that Mexico will stress the importance of equal access for all countries to COVID-19 vaccines at the council meeting.
He was sharply critical that countries that produce the vaccine have high vaccination rates while Latin American countries have problems obtaining any vaccines.
The coronavirus has infected more than 109 million people and killed at least 2.4 million of them. But many countries have not yet started vaccination programs and even rich nations are facing shortages of vaccine doses as manufacturers struggle to ramp up production.
The World Health Organization’s COVAX program, an ambitious project to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people, has already missed its own goal of beginning coronavirus vaccinations in poor countries at the same time that shots were rolled out in rich countries.
Numerous developing countries have rushed in recent weeks to sign their own private deals to buy vaccines, unwilling to wait for COVAX.
Woodward said Britain supports reserving 5% of COVAX doses as a “last resort” buffer to ensure that high-risk populations have access to COVID-19 vaccines.