UNHCR calls for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for refugees

On World Health Day, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling for concerted international action and solidarity to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations, including for refugees and other forcibly displaced and stateless people.

UNHCR is encouraged by the fact that 153 States have adopted vaccination strategies that include refugees. Yet, in many parts of the world, actual immunization remains a challenge, largely due to the unequal availability of vaccines and the capacity of health systems.

“The blatant imbalances observed in vaccine-sharing among States are counter-productive and shortsighted. A ‘my country first’ approach just cannot work in a pandemic that knows no borders,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

To date, some 20 countries are known to have begun inoculating refugees on an equal footing to citizens. Recent examples include Serbia and Nepal, which came on the heels of other States, such as Rwanda and Jordan.

“We commend these countries for their exemplary dedication and leadership. By including refugees in their vaccine distribution, they mitigate the risks associated with exclusion and discrimination,” Grandi said. Such risks range from consequences for the overall public health situation to limited access to services or curtailed freedom of movement.

UNHCR remains committed to the allocation principles of the COVAX initiative – the global effort to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need.

Some 85 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, which face financial challenges and fragile health systems. These nations, which continue to generously host the bulk of refugees, need more support to address the urgent health needs both of their nationals and refugees, including with COVID-19 vaccines.

UNHCR has been working closely with governments, national health authorities and other partners to help respond to the devastating impacts of COVID-19. UNHCR has integrated most of its COVID-19 response plans into its 2021 Global Appeal, but urgently requires an additional US$455 million to meet supplementary needs. The agency has received contributions and pledges totaling just 13 percent of its COVID-19 appeal.

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