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Press Release

Ahead of UN General Assembly, IRC warns millions left behind in Covid response

New IRC analysis released today shows the world’s most vulnerable are being left behind in the fight against COVID, as leaders gather to discuss the global pandemic response at a Summit hosted by President Biden.

The IRC’s latest findings demonstrate that while wealthier countries begin to offer booster shots for the fully vaccinated, shocking gaps exist in access to vaccines for populations living in conflict and fragile settings. In these contexts, COVID-19, together with conflict and climate change, has exacerbated existing humanitarian crises and inequality. The analysis goes on to provide robust recommendations for global leaders gathering at the UN General Assembly to ensure those hardest to reach are not left behind.

Findings include:

  • In the 20 countries identified by IRC at greatest risk of a major new–or significantly worsened–humanitarian crisis in 2021, only 2.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, and less than 5% of the population has received a single dose of the vaccine.
  • These countries represent 10% of the world’s population, but account for 85% of those in humanitarian need.
  • The WHO has reported that more than 80% of vaccines have gone to high-and upper -middle income countries, even though they comprise less than half of the world’s population.

All the more worrying is the shortfall of 500 million doses expected by COVAX throughout the end of the year- making getting shots in arms in these contexts all the more difficult. IRC is calling not only for excess vaccine donations to make up for the shortfall, but a significant boost in funding to frontline, community-based NGOs best-placed to deliver vaccines amongst hard-to-reach populations. In countries like South Sudan for instance, NGOs alone are providing 80% of health services. However only 20% of humanitarian funding goes to frontline NGOs and that funding takes up to eight months to reach them.

The IRC outlines five recommendations for global leaders and institutions to fill critical gaps in the Covid-19 response:

  1. Direct more and faster funding to frontline actors to reach the last mile.
  2. Invest in innovative, evidence-based approaches to address the secondary impacts of the pandemic across livelihoods, food insecurity, education, and gender equality.
  3. Include displaced populations in national recovery plans.
  4. Prioritize not only vaccine production, but country preparedness and planning, to ensure  countries reach displaced and remote populations and are able to detect, prevent and respond to future disease threats. International support is urgently needed to enable the delivery of vaccines before they expire with investment made to help recruit and train health workers and putting the logistics in place to effectively deliver doses to the most hard-to-reach communities.
  5. Enact much-needed humanitarian financing reform, by increasing the amount of aid going  directly to frontline responders, making more funding multi-year and unearmarked, as well as advocating for greater transparency.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said, “There is no excuse for inaction at the UNGA this week. Covid vaccines are today a privilege of rich countries, which are debating booster shots, and far from reach in poor countries, where a first shot is over the horizon. Less than 2% of people in crisis-affected countries, like Afghanistan, have received a vaccination. This is dangerous as well as misguided. The world needs a global vaccination drive - vaccine production and distribution through supply chains that work. Weak health systems mean that the cost of vaccine delivery in fragile states is up to four times as much as these countries spend on healthcare per person per year, and in many of these states it is NGOs propping up the health response. The Leaders Summit on Covid-19 needs to take concrete steps to turn President Biden’s targets into reality.”

You can read more about the IRC’s recommendations and view raw vaccination rate data here.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.