One year since the WHO declared the disease a public health emergency of international concern, more infectious COVID-19 strains are spreading in conflict-affected and refugee-hosting countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Greece, while new variants are feared to be spreading in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Stacey Mearns, Senior Technical Advisor for Emergency Health at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said,

“The world should be extremely worried about these new variants spreading in conflict-affected countries. As they are more infectious, we are already seeing a dramatic rise in cases, which will strain health systems even more - potentially beyond their breaking point. What’s more is that more transmission means there is potential for further mutations to occur and more variants to emerge. This is why it is critical that everyone around the globe, including the most vulnerable, are vaccinated.

With billions of people not anticipated to receive a COVID-19 vaccine this year, we continue to urge high-income countries to increase their investments to both the COVAX facility and broader humanitarian assistance that remains every bit as essential, especially given the severity of COVID-19’s secondary impacts. This includes ensuring that refugees and internally displaced people are included in vaccination campaigns. 

However, we cannot wait for the vaccine to save us. At this critical juncture of the pandemic, the world must renew efforts to reduce transmission - and reduce it now -  by wearing masks and social distancing.”

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) recently joined forces with Gavi, the vaccine alliance, in a partnership aimed at driving equitable access to vaccines  - including for populations affected by crisis. Coupled with its engagement in the COVAX Facility and continued efforts to strengthen health systems, the IRC aims to ensure an end to vaccine-preventable diseases and death in fragile contexts -- including from COVID-19.