Remarks by H.E. Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN at the high-level virtual policy discussion in parallel to World Immunization Week Advancing Access to Immunization for People on the Move in Times of COVID-19, 27 April 2021

I thank you Mr. Moderator.; and thank you for setting the tone for the meeting.

Ambassador Flores, Deputy Director General, Laura Thompson, SRSG Walter Cotte, Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists, Dear Colleagues – good morning.

I thank the organizers for inviting me today and for giving me this opportunity to share a few thoughts on a very important issue: Advancing Access to Immunization for People on the Move in Times of COVID-19. We have with us a rich panel of experts to share their views on this important topic. I hope that our discussion will lead to some bold and innovative ideas.

Before I begin, I wish to pay my tribute to migrants globally who have been on the frontline of the Covid battle, and yet mostly kept outside of response and recovery efforts. I also thank and pay tribute to all frontline IOM, IFRC, ICRC and CSEM staff who have been carrying out their work with courage and dedication during this unprecedented crisis.

Today’s event coincides with the World Immunization Week 2021, with a very apt theme: ‘Vaccines bring us Closer’. Last Friday, we had a Special Ministerial Meeting convened by ECOSOC, on the theme: “Vaccine for All”.  And last month, as many as 181 countries endorsed the Political Declaration on Equitable Global Access to COVID-19 vaccines. We must build on such political momentum to ensure vaccines for everyone, everywhere. Migrants, refugees, as well as, other people on the move, including those in irregular migration situation, should not fall through the cracks.

The SG’s policy briefs on ‘COVID-19 and UHC’ as well as ‘People on the Move’ highlighted the importance of ensuring inclusive access to health care, regardless of migration status.  It is encouraging to see the initiatives of some countries to facilitate access to vaccines to all irrespective of their migration status. The US and the UK have led by example in this regard. In Bangladesh, we have included 1.1 million Myanmar nationals, the Rohingyas, in the national vaccination roll out campaign. We are using the same prioritization criteria for them as the Bangladeshi nationals.

These are all steps in the right direction. Yet we are far away from ensuring fair and equitable distribution of vaccines for all. 86% of vaccination worldwide has been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries; and only 0.1 percent people in low-income countries have received vaccines so far.

We must overcome the stark vaccine divides. We believe that providing universal access of vaccines is intrinsically linked with the broader question of equity in production, distribution, and other socio-economic issues. Vaccine hoarding, vaccine nationalism, are not going to take us anywhere.  No one is safe, unless everyone is safe.  As the SG has rightly said, “at this critical moment vaccines equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.”

Allow me to share some specific thoughts in this regard:

First, we commend the extraordinary level of cooperation and solidarity to create the COVAX facility to ensure vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable. Since 84% of refugees are hosted by the low-income countries, COVAX comes as an important way out to bridge the burgeoning vaccine divides. We need more generous support from the developed countries, international organizations, philanthropists, MDBs and vaccine producers to fulfill the ambitious targets of COVAX to reach those who are the furthest behind.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the countries that are hosting large number of refugees the hardest. The vaccines issue cannot be dealt in isolation of the multifaceted challenges that these countries are already facing. And that include the limited capacities of their public health facilities. The international community must enhance support to these countries to overcome these double crises of the pandemic and large-scale refugees.

Third, migrant and refugees face myriad problems including language and cultural barriers, lack of knowledge and access to health care system, difficulties in accessing internet, and various other socio-economic barriers. It is imperative to create a conducive environment to encourage them for vaccination, by ensuring easy registration process; and even waiver of immigration checks and proof of residency. It is also important to launch awareness campaigns against disinformation and misperceptions, and lack of trust about vaccines among migrants and refugee communities.

Fourthly, administering vaccines among large-scale refugees and host communities in low-income countries is a huge capacity issue. Therefore, national governments, UN agencies and humanitarian actors must join hands to take up this highly challenging task, especially to reach those who are at greatest risk of being left behind.

Finally, at the current pace, it is estimated that we would need until the end of 2023 to vaccinate every global citizen.  An effective mechanism for equitable access to vaccines needs to go beyond procuring vaccines by mobilizing the global manufacturing capacity, including in developing countries, by using TRIPs waiver and flexibility. We must recognize the important link between expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines and production capacities. Ensuring vaccines as a global public good would require scaling up production massively.

I shall rest it here.  I look forward to a fruitful discussion ahead.  Bangladesh will support every effort to ensure immunization for people on the move.  As a major migrant source country, as well as host to a large refugee population, that is a real priority and commitment for us.

I thank you all.