As US President Joe Biden has said, “COVID-19 must be beaten everywhere, or it comes back to haunt us again.” COVID-19 knows no borders. The more people we vaccinate—everywhere—the sooner the pandemic will end.
Pathfinder International stands with the World Health Organization (WHO) and countries engaged through COVAX calling for fair and equitable access to safe, effective novel coronavirus vaccines globally. The pandemic won’t cease and the world won’t be safe until low-income countries have the same access to vaccines as middle- and upper-income countries.
We believe these five basic tenets should be followed in any global vaccination approach:
- Vaccinate the most vulnerable people first. Frontline health workers, elderly people, other essential workers, and those with underlying health conditions should be first to receive vaccines in every country. Across these categories, countries must closely examine age structure and other factors to determine actual vulnerability to COVID-19. We know through our close partnerships with frontline health workers that they play an essential role in ensuring health, saving lives, and curbing the pandemic. More than 70 percent are women, often serving as the primary caregivers in their families and communities. They need to be protected so that they can continue to play these essential roles and limit transmission to those for whom they care.
- Distribute safe, effective vaccines that are backed by science. Several vaccines are proven safe and effective, and multiple other vaccine candidates are currently going through clinical trials. All countries need access to vaccines that are proven by science, irrespective of their cost.
- Exercise global cooperation and generosity. Wealthy countries have pre-purchased billions more vaccine doses than they’ll need. These countries should be prohibited from hoarding vaccines and should instead donate excess doses. Fair and equitable access to vaccines and a smart pandemic-control strategy also means ensuring wealthy countries are not first in line, but that vaccines are distributed globally based on need. More than 170 nations participate in COVAX, a partnership led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and WHO, which aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. We applaud the Biden administration for immediately joining COVAX.
- Cooperate with ministries of health, civil society partners, community and religious leaders to encourage voluntary vaccinations and behaviors that mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. Ending the pandemic depends on people willingly being vaccinated. Myths and misconceptions around vaccination must be combated through comprehensive public health campaigns reaching people with evidence and messages that resonate in their societies and communities. At the same time, people must be encouraged to continue wearing masks, distance physically, and wash their hands—interventions proven to mitigate transmission. Pathfinder International has been combating misinformation about COVID-19 and encouraging these behaviors in the countries where we work in partnership with ministries of health and civil society partners since the pandemic began. We are ready to continue this critical work as vaccines become available.
- Strengthen health systems and ensure the continuation of essential services, including sexual and reproductive health care. As vaccines are rolled out, health systems strengthening must continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and to anticipate and respond to future crises. Health systems must be able to support efficient systems for vaccine distribution while maintaining essential health care. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was predicted that millions of women and girls could lose access to contraception and maternal health care as resources were diverted to stopping the pandemic. Pathfinder International has been working hard to ensure that doesn’t happen by collaborating with our government and civil society partners to adapt—making services remote, where possible; ensuring frontline health workers have personal protective equipment; and getting women and girls information on COVID-19 prevention as they receive other essential care. This work must continue unabated.