UNHCR Calls for Equitable Access to COVID-19 Vaccine for Refugees

UNHCR Calls for Equitable Access to COVID-19 Vaccine for Refugees

A Palestinian woman sits with a child after receiving food supplies from the United Nations' offices at the United Nations' offices in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, February 11, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called for concerted international action and solidarity to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations, including for refugees and other forcibly displaced and stateless people.

In a statement issued on World Health Day, UNHCR said it was encouraged by the fact that 153 States have adopted vaccination strategies that include refugees. Yet, in many parts of the world, actual immunization remains a challenge, largely due to the unequal availability of vaccines and the capacity of health systems.

“The blatant imbalances observed in vaccine-sharing among States are counter-productive and shortsighted. A ‘my country first’ approach just cannot work in a pandemic that knows no borders,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

To date, some 20 countries are known to have begun inoculating refugees on an equal footing to citizens. Recent examples include Serbia and Nepal, which came on the heels of other States, such as Rwanda and Jordan.

“We commend these countries for their exemplary dedication and leadership. By including refugees in their vaccine distribution, they mitigate the risks associated with exclusion and discrimination,” Grandi said. Such risks range from consequences for the overall public health situation to limited access to services or curtailed freedom of movement.

Some 85 per cent of the world’s refugees, including Palestinian refugees, are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, which face financial challenges and fragile health systems. These nations need more support to address the urgent health needs both of their nationals and refugees, including with COVID-19 vaccines.

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