April 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2022
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THEMATIC ISSUES

COVID-19

Expected Council Action

In April, the Council will hold a briefing on the implementation of resolution 2565 on the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, adopted during the UK presidency in February 2021. The session will be chaired by Lord Ahmad, UK Minister for South Asia, North Africa, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. Assistant Secretary-General Ted Chaiban, the Global Lead Coordinator for COVID-19 Vaccine Country-Readiness and Delivery; Esperanza Martinez, head of the ICRC’s COVID-19 Crisis Management Team; and a civil society representative are expected to brief.

Key Recent Developments

Following the development of several COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2020, the Security Council adopted resolution 2565 on 26 February 2021. The resolution called for strengthening national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation, such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, to facilitate equitable and affordable access to the vaccine in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies. It also stressed that equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 vaccines was essential to ending the pandemic and expressed concern about uneven progress in vaccine access, recognising that those affected by conflict and insecurity were particularly at risk of being left behind.

COVAX, a key mechanism for promoting vaccine distribution to low- and middle-income countries, is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, with UNICEF as its delivery partner. Initially, the rollout of COVAX vaccines was slow. By the end of last year, however, vaccine supplies had become more available. On 15 January, COVAX announced the delivery of its one-billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose as part of a shipment of 1.1 million doses to Rwanda.

On 17 February, the Secretary-General appointed Ted Chaiban of UNICEF as Global Lead Coordinator for COVID-19 Vaccine Country Readiness and Delivery at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. In this role, Chaiban leads a senior inter-agency team to promote an effective global response to the pandemic, supporting vaccine country readiness and delivery. He is also tasked with coordinating inter-agency efforts to forecast vaccine needs and provide financial and technical assistance to overcome bottlenecks in country-level implementation. In the press release announcing his appointment, Chaiban said that “[w]ith vastly improved supply, the world no longer has a global vaccine supply problem; it has a vaccine equity and delivery problem”.

At a 10 March briefing of the Human Rights Council on COVID-19 vaccines, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that more than 10.5 billion vaccine doses had been administered globally, but of this total, only about 13 percent of people in low-income countries had been vaccinated, compared with almost 70 percent in high-income countries. “We have failed to administer the vaccines in a fair and equitable manner,” she said. “This failure is prolonging the pandemic.” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who also spoke at the briefing, said: “[c]ountries with high vaccination rates are reopening while others with low vaccination rates and low testing rates have been left behind. The result is more than 60,000 deaths per week, along with an increased risk of the emergence of new variants”.

Many conflict-affected countries have particularly low vaccination rates. As at 24 March, Burundi and Haiti have received enough doses to cover only three percent of their populations; the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen, four percent; Cameroon, six percent; and Mali and South Sudan, eight percent, according to OCHA and the Centre for Humanitarian Data. Among other countries, Syria had received enough doses to vaccinate 35 percent of its population and Nigeria, 17 percent. Within such countries, however, areas that are affected by conflict, controlled by armed groups, or have displaced persons have had less vaccine access. Since resolution 2565’s adoption, Council members met on 26 July and 13 December 2021 in closed consultations to discuss the resolution’s implementation and the challenges of vaccine administration in conflict and humanitarian settings.

In other recent developments, the Gavi Vaccine Alliance announced on 11 March that Germany will host a high-level meeting on 8 April to help raise at least $5.2 billion in urgent financial support for COVAX, including $3.8 billion in donor funding for lower-income countries.

On 15 March, the US, the EU, India, and South Africa reached a tentative agreement to waive patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines. For the deal to enter into force, the consensus of the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is required, meaning that just one country rejecting it could still block the accord. According to news reports, the agreement reflects a compromise from the original proposal that sought broader waivers, as patents for COVID-19 vaccines will be suspended for either three or five years, and treatment and testing formulas will remain subject to intellectual property protections. It would also only apply to developing WTO member countries that made up less than 10 percent of world exports of COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021.

Key Issues and Options

Drawing attention to the needs and challenges of COVID-19 vaccine delivery and administration in conflict-affected countries and humanitarian settings is a key issue. Such settings have limited logistics capacity, humanitarian access challenges, weak or decimated healthcare systems, and a shortage of healthcare workers. Without building up these capacities, conflict-affected and post-conflict countries are likely to lag behind in administering the vaccine, despite its growing availability.

Another key issue is the secondary socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic and the risk of increasing unrest over the next year. Countries that have low vaccination coverage and have not experienced the economic recovery occurring in wealthier countries are also facing the impacts of global inflation, including rising fuel and food prices resulting from the war in Ukraine.

Another issue is the difficulty in operationalising the COVAX humanitarian buffer. This was intended to make vaccines available as a measure of last resort for people living in areas of humanitarian crises and vulnerable groups, such as refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people, who risk being left out of national vaccine rollouts or where unavoidable gaps in coverage might arise.

Addressing vaccine hesitancy and maintaining assistance for other humanitarian needs remain further challenges for conflict-affected countries.

The role of UN peacekeeping and special political missions in trying to support vaccine rollouts is a further important issue.

The Council may continue to hold periodic meetings on the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain focus on the specific needs of conflict-affected countries due to the health crisis and to stay aware of the possible destabilising effects of the pandemic. Another option is holding more in-depth country-specific discussions on the impacts of the pandemic, including its socioeconomic effects, to identify and respond to relevant peace and security threats. Council meetings on the health crisis, whether thematically or at country level, could also function to bring enhanced attention to such threats and vaccine inequities in a way that may prompt other relevant actors to address these problems.

Council Dynamics

The Council swiftly agreed to resolution 2565 on COVID-19 vaccines, adopting it as a “presidential text”, meaning that all 15 Council members co-sponsored the resolution. The resolution also had 115 member state co-sponsors—the third-highest of any Council resolution. This represented a much different dynamic than the division in the Council around COVID-19—highlighted by US-China tensions—during the first year of the pandemic.

Differences of view over sanctions sometimes arise in discussing responses to the pandemic. China, Russia and others often reiterate their view that unilaterally imposed sanctions should be waived, as they can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic. The US and European countries push back against such references to unilateral sanctions in Council products. Some Council members that are large suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines are keen to highlight their contributions to vaccine distribution. Other members may be more critical of booster-shot programmes because of the gaps that remain in vaccine coverage in many lower-income countries.

The UK was the penholder on resolution 2565. France and former elected member Tunisia were the penholders on resolution 2532, which the Council adopted in July 2020 to support the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire appeal to combat the pandemic.

UN DOCUMENTS ON COVID-19

Security Council Resolutions
26 February 2021S/RES/2565 This resolution demanded humanitarian pauses to deliver vaccines and reiterated the Council’s demand from resolution 2532 for a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 July 2020S/RES/2532 This resolution demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda and called upon all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a 90-day humanitarian pause.
Security Council Meeting Record
19 February 2021S/2021/157 This letter contained the record of briefings and statements from Council members’ 17 February videoconference debate on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

 

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