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Side event “The human rights case for vaccine multilateralism”

47th session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

5 July 2021

Excellencies,
Colleagues,

I am pleased to address you today. I thank the Mission of Singapore and the Universal Rights Group for convening this important event.

For the past 18 months, we have been facing an extraordinary challenge. Rarely has the world faced such a cascade of setbacks and threats to virtually every right.

As of the end of June, there had been over 181 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported globally to the World Health Organization, WHO, with over 3.9 million deaths.

Like a tsunami that follows an earthquake, the pandemic has generated a devastating socio-economic crisis, with long and far-reaching consequences.

This situation presents us with unprecedented tests, requiring our utmost attention. We often say that people “live and learn”, but COVID has made us learn to live.

To some extent, we have met this challenge. The pace at which we have gained scientific knowledge is extraordinary, and the lives saved by this learning are incalculable.

But in order to ensure our survival, and to recover better, we must also learn the lessons the pandemic has taught us. The most central of them is the dreadful cost of neglecting human rights.

But we still seem unwilling to apply this learning to the most urgent task before us now – making vaccinations available across the globe.

The universal and equitable access and distribution of vaccines is likely the strongest determinant of whether and how soon we can control the pandemic.

The case for global vaccination is unquestionable. The mantras “we are all in this together” and “no one is safe until we are all safe” are based on scientific fact. Mutating forms of the virus that may emerge among largely unvaccinated populations pose a threat to everyone.

The economic consequences of vaccine failure are profound and, in some countries, we already see the enormous benefits that widespread vaccination can have.

But, as I mentioned, instead embracing this learning and coming together in solidarity, we are growing apart.

Today, the profound unfairness of unequal access to vaccines, together with underlying failures to invest in human rights-based protections, are driving the growing prospect of vastly divergent recoveries.

I will give you an example that illustrates de situation. Last May, G7 countries were vaccinating their populations at a rate of 4.6 million people a day, which could lead to full vaccination by early 2022. In contrast, the rate in low-income countries was 63,000 per day, which means full vaccination would take five decades.

This is a turning point: a once in a lifetime opportunity to depart from models that have generated inequalities and fragility, and steer our world towards a more inclusive future. And we should open this door with vaccine multilateralism.

Colleagues,

And, as I have said many times before, vaccines against COVID-19 must be considered as a global public good.

Tackling the vaccine challenge requires global solidarity and more urgent more comprehensive action on multiple fronts.

In a spirit of cooperation, States should support initiatives to ensure universal and equitable distribution of vaccines, such as the COVAX facility, which urgently needs more resources. The facility’s attempt to provide equitable vaccine access to all countries has been compromised by delays caused by production and delivery to richer countries. Manufacturers should prioritize supply to COVAX and excess doses should be shared with the facility.

Existing production must be expanded by all possible means. States have taken emergency steps to divert manufacturing resources to bolster the production of vaccines, as well as of tests, protective equipment, treatments and oxygen. That same intensity in producing countries needs to continue until there are adequate supplies globally. The emergency is still here.

We also need to eliminate all other obstacles to ensuring vaccines and treatments reach everyone, including licensing processes that are unduly complex and restrictive. I am glad to have seen steps towards the TRIPS waiver supported by Dr. Tedros and many countries, and I look forward to further discussions on this initiative at the upcoming WTO session. This step will not solve everything, but we need to pursue all options.

Some of these changes will no doubt take time to agree and implement. But we need to avoid short-sighted thinking. Together, combined efforts to better share technology and know-how will make a crucial difference. We need to learn to live. Isn’t it time for us to realize that this pandemic is far from over, and that it will certainly not be the last pandemic we face?

Excellencies,

The past 18 months have proved to us the unbearable costs of widespread inequalities and human rights gaps. But they have also demonstrated once and for all that human rights make us safer and stronger.

In truth, they are the only available vaccine against the parallel and unacceptable pandemic of inequalities and discrimination that COVID-19 has laid bare. Another vaccine we must ensure equitable access to everyone, everywhere.

Thank you.