People living in war zones risk being the very last people in the world with access to COVID-19 vaccines. Of the 25 countries with the lowest vaccination rates in the world today, more than half are involved in armed conflict and violence.

GENEVA (ICRC) – Ahead of the World Health Assembly, the ICRC is shedding a light on the millions of people who remain at risk from COVID-19: those living through conflict and armed violence who have yet to receive a single dose of a vaccine.

“Two years later, our fatigue in the face of the pandemic cannot hide the fact that it is not over and that new and potentially deadly virus variants remain a real threat to our return to normal and, more importantly, to human lives,” said Sophie Sutrich, ICRC chief COVID-19 management team. “The Omicron variant shows what can happen when large populations are not vaccinated, leading to viral replication and the possible emergence of variants that vaccines do not cover. Controlling this virus – and future viruses – will only be possible if we invest in health care systems and ensure everyone is included in vaccination efforts, including in hard-to-reach conflict zones.”

The WHO estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the deaths of nearly 15 million people worldwide, a devastating statistic that underscores both the urgency of making vaccines available to all and investing in health systems. Armed conflicts take a heavy toll on health systems, leave behind damaged or neglected infrastructure, and complicate supply chains.

The ICRC is therefore facilitating immunizations in last mile areas by helping gain access across front lines through its neutral humanitarian work and by assisting with transport and cold chain logistics. Conflict countries often have inherent challenges for immunization delivery, such as underdeveloped road networks.

All too often, medical workers in conflict zones come under fire or are forced to flee. When doctors and nurses, and the clinics and hospitals where they work, are not protected by conflicting parties, their entire community suffers. This often means people have nowhere to go to get treatment, let alone COVID-19 vaccines.

The ICRC is working urgently to get vaccines into the arms of some of the most vulnerable populations and is working with partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the world to support vaccination against COVID-19 in armed conflict.

Operating examples:

The ICRC has negotiated on various occasions that vaccination teams for COVID-19 vaccinations could gain access to communities under the influence of non-state armed groups.

The ICRC in Myanmar has supported COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in health facilities in border areas.

The ICRC is facilitating the transport of vaccines and Ministry of Health immunization teams to conflict-affected districts in the central region and northern Cabo Delgado province.

A campaign to raise awareness of immunizations in conflict zones

Today the ICRC is launching a campaign, including a powerful short film, to raise awareness of this urgent issue.

This campaign seeks to highlight the plight of millions of people along the last mile who, due to lack of capacity and/or political will, may not be included in national vaccination deployment plans. This includes people displaced, detained or living under the control of non-state armed groups (NSAGs). Today we estimate that more than 50 million people live in NSAG-controlled areas, the vast majority of whom do not have access to COVID-19 vaccines.

shots in the arms

The ICRC strongly believes that access to COVID-19 vaccines should be unconditional – no political, financial, legal or logistical issue should limit efforts to reach people in conflict and in the most fragile of settings.

The availability of vaccine doses is only part of the solution to this crisis. We must ensure that the vaccine gets off the airport tarmac and into the arms of the most vulnerable. In particular, the ICRC calls on governments, non-state armed groups, vaccine manufacturers and donors:

  1. Help produce and deliver more vaccines to countries suffering from conflict;

  2. Provide greater investment in local delivery mechanisms and capacity to ensure vaccines leave the tarmac of major airports and reach people living on the front lines and in remote areas;

  3. Integrate COVID-19 immunizations into a broader health strategy that strengthens and supports health systems weakened by conflict and underinvestment; and

  4. Recognition of the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law of “preventing disease” as a medical goal, including the administration of vaccines to ensure access to all people living in conflict-affected areas.

For more information, please contact:

crystal fountain (English), ICRC Geneva, + 41 79 642 80 56
[email protected]

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