US, UK, EU's excess Covid-19 vaccination supply enough for 20 crisis-stricken countries, IRC report says

US, UK, EU's excess Covid-19 vaccination supply enough for 20 crisis-stricken countries, IRC report says
The IRC has warned that millions of the world's most vulnerable people may not receive vaccines 'for years'.
2 min read
10 March, 2021
The IRC has urged the international community to tackle vaccine inequality [Getty]

The number of surplus Covid-19 vaccines secured by the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom could cover the needs of more than 20 conflict and disaster-stricken countries, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has said in a new report.

The US-based NGO said that excess doses of the Covid jabs could vaccinate all people above the age of 16 in countries identified as facing a "double threat" of conflict and coronavirus, including Syria, Yemen and Ethiopia.

As many as 46 million people aged over 60 in these countries are at immediate risk from the disease and unlikely to be vaccinated this year, the IRC warned.

"As the pandemic continues to claim lives and destroy livelihoods worldwide, with variants now arising in several countries, the wealthiest countries have continued purchasing enough doses to cover their entire populations several times over - highlighting and exacerbating the extreme inequality faced by people living in conflict and crisis," IRC President and CEO David Miliband said in a statement.

The former UK lawmaker added that less than 5 percent of vaccines from the WHO's COVAX scheme will reach countries listed by the IRC as "most vulnerable". Miliband warned that "many people in these countries risk not receiving a vaccine for years". 

As the countries scramble to vaccinate populations against  Covid-19, humanitarian organisations and activists have voiced increasing concern about inequality in vaccine distribution.

In the Middle East, countries devastated by conflict - like Yemen and Syria - face an uphill battle in vaccine rollout, while Israel has been accused of "medical apartheid" in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Political elites Tunisia, Lebanon and other states in the region have also been slammed for securing foreign vaccines ahead of the general public.

The IRC urged the international community to support health systems in crisis-affected countries, as well as to ensure that vaccines reach those in need.

"It is time for wealthy governments to realise that COVID will not be beaten anywhere until it is beaten everywhere," Miliband said.

"Now is the time for bold action: commit to share excess vaccine doses and to provide the financial support needed to help low-income countries actually distribute the doses once received - or risk pushing the end of this pandemic even further out of sight."

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