Pacific leaders have added their voices to a global call for universal vaccination, as world leaders gathered at the United Nations today to call for fair and equitable COVID-19 vaccination distribution on a worldwide scale.
The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Chair in New York, Ambassador Satyendra Prasad spoke on behalf of the PIF group at the “Galvanising Momentum for Universal Vaccination” high-level debate.
Speakers including UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the General Assembly, presenting the moral and practical case for the sharing of vaccines by developed countries.
Guterres said that “ending the pandemic requires ensuring access to tests, vaccines and treatments to everyone and everywhere,” urging countries to fulfil and accelerate vaccine dose sharing and donation commitments to COVAX with better quality and supply.
In his comments on behalf of the PIF, Ambassador Prasad praised the COVAX facility for providing vaccines for the Blue Pacific Continent, where “many nations have comparably small populations and limited purchasing power in competitive global vaccine markets.
“From the outset, the Pacific voice has been consistent on the issue of vaccines – they are a critical prerequisite for our health, our livelihoods, and economic recovery from the pandemic. As such, Pacific Leaders have made repeated calls for the timely and equitable access to safe and effective vaccination for all as a global public good.”
Ambassador Prasad emphasised nations “will not overcome this virus by acting in self-interest – we can only help ourselves by working together and for each other.”
The sentiment was echoed by President of the UN General Assembly, Ambassador Abdulla Shahid, calling for world leaders, senior UN officials, non-profit representatives, private sector stakeholders and even celebrities to come together to ensure universal vaccination. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is the importance of collective action – that our strength lies in solidarity.”
In order to quicken universal vaccination efforts, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked all countries to support the WHO’s global vaccination target of 70 per cent by the middle of 2022, “We can end the pandemic as a global health emergency this year, we have the tools, we have the know-how,” he said.
In 2021, Pacific Island Forum Leaders committed to a vaccination population target of 80 percent by the first quarter of 2022. In his remarks, Ambassador Prasad reported that Fiji has successfully administered second doses to over 93 percent of the eligible population with many other South Pacific Island countries having achieved similar vaccination rates.
He urged the global community to address the challenges of climate change with similar resolve. “They are both ongoing challenges that traverse all borders, and we must harness this momentum in our fight against the climate crisis facing our Pacific Island Nations.”
Other Pacific Island Forum members also delivered forceful statements for vaccine equity, including Australia, Nauru, New Zealand, the Republic of Marshall Islands and Samoa, who spoke on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States.
Ambassador Prasad urged the General Assembly to act decisively, saying that global recovery would only be stimulated through “the collective effort of domestic, regional and global policies, as opposed to temporary fixes for a short few.
“We can’t afford for our intentions to remain visions – they must become reality,” he said.