Vaccine inequity is giving Covid-19 variants a free pass to run wild — UN chief

New York:   Report by Muhammad Moazzam Ali

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed his concern over inequality in sharing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, saying more than half of the world’s countries have not met vaccination targets.

In his last press conference of the year in New York on Thursday, the UN chief said as the fast-spreading Omicron variant raged on, the inequalities keep rising. “Vaccine inequity is giving variants a free pass to run wild – ravaging the health of people and economies in every corner of the globe”, the secretary-general said.

He said the burden for developing countries have been growing heavier – with diminishing resources for recovery, rising inflation, and mounting debt. According to WHO, the vaccination rates in high-income countries are eight times higher than in the countries of Africa. At current rates, the continent will not meet the 70 per cent threshold until August 2024.

“It is becoming clear that vaccines alone will not eradicate the pandemic. Vaccines are averting hospitalization and death for the majority who get them and slowing the spread. But transmissions show no sign of letting up. This is driven by vaccine inequity, hesitancy and complacency.” Guterres said the world was “coming to the end of a difficult year”.

In 2021, he pointed out, the pandemic still raged, inequalities kept rising, the burden for developing countries grew heavier and the climate crisis remained unresolved.

“I am deeply worried. If things do not improve – and improve fast – we face even harder times ahead”, the UN chief warned.
Mr. Guterres also denounced “lopsided” recovery efforts, that are accelerating inequalities and increasing stresses on economies and societies.

In fact, he recalled, advanced economies mobilized nearly 28 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product into economic recovery. For middle-income countries, the number fell to 6.5 per cent, and it plummeted to 1.8 per cent for the least developed countries.

The Secretary-General highlighted projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) showing that cumulative economic growth per capita over the next five years in Sub-Saharan Africa will be 75 per cent less than the rest of the world.

With inflation rising to a 40-year high in the United States and growing elsewhere, Mr. Guterres expects interest rates to rise, placing greater fiscal constraints on the least developed countries.

“Defaults will become inevitable for lower income countries that already bear much higher borrowing costs”, he said. “Today’s global financial system is supercharging inequalities and instability.”
As a result, inequalities keep widening, social upheaval and polarization keep growing and the risks keep increasing.

“This is a powder keg for social unrest and instability” and poses “a clear and present danger to democratic institutions.”
Because of that, he argued, “it is time to clearly assume the need for reform of the international financial system.”

Speaking about the response to the pandemic and the international financial system, the Secretary-General argued that they reveal governance failures that are also moral failures.

“I am determined that 2022 must be the year in which we finally address the deficits in both governance systems”, he said.

The Secretary-General is sure that the world knows “how to make 2022 a happier and more hopeful new year” but said everyone “must do all it takes to make it happen.”






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