Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 11, 2022
Thank you very much, Lord Ahmad, for bringing us together today for this very important discussion. And thank you to the briefers for your insights.
I think we all remember where we were when we realized that COVID-19 was not a minor outbreak, but a highly contagious virus that would change our lives. That was little over two years ago and it seemed like more than two years – two very long years. And during that time, COVID-19 has caused immense hardships around the world. There have been 500 million confirmed cases. Six million people have died. Six million. So many of us have personally lost loved ones to this virus. But while COVID-19 represents a darker chapter, there is reason for hope. After all, the scientific community was able to develop, test, and start to rollout lifesaving vaccines in under a year – a historic feat.
Of course, having safe and effective vaccines and getting shots into arms are very different things, and the United States recognized early on that we could play a crucial role in vaccinating the world. Working with COVAX and other partners, we have provided over 518 million doses to 114 countries – with no strings attached. We’re committed to donating 1.2 billion doses in total. Thanks in part to these efforts, nearly six in 10 people around the world have at least two shots of the vaccine. That’s encouraging, but we know we still have work to do. And we know that too many countries lag far behind, especially countries in the midst of conflict and instability, like Yemen, where just 1.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, or Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where that number is less than one percent. Tragically, this list goes on and on.
And it’s not an issue of supply. We have enough doses. It’s an issue of access. Aid organizations face steep barriers to delivering humanitarian assistance, including COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, to conflict zones. Ukraine is a prime example. Russia’s unprovoked, brutal invasion has meant that COVID-19 vaccine distribution and routine immunizations have come to a sudden halt. Since the start of the war, COVID-19 vaccinations have plummeted from more than 52,000 a day to less than 1,000 a day. Why? Because Russia’s senseless violence has damaged the infrastructure necessary to get aid and vaccines to people. Safe passage through humanitarian corridors is sporadic at best.
Colleagues, let me absolutely clear: aid organizations delivering humanitarian assistance, including COVID-19 vaccinations and treatment, must be given unfettered access. In Ukraine. In Syria. In Burma. In every single country, under every single conflict. The United States is already working with the international community to expand access through our Global VAX initiative. And thanks to the Global Action Plan, we’ve been able to bolster supply chains, address information gaps, support health care workers, and strengthen the global health security architecture.
But the Security Council has a central role to play here, as well. This Council has taken some important steps by adopting Resolutions 2532 and 2565, but these resolutions need to be implemented, as you just heard from Ted Chaiban. We can and must do more, including by renewing the UN authorization to deliver cross border humanitarian assistance into Syria. The cross-border mechanism is a literal lifeline and the only route through which COVAX vaccines are reaching northwest Syria – home to more than three million people.
So many of the crises we face don’t have an instant cure. We wish we could vaccinate the world from war, from hunger, and all forms of suffering. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. But when it comes to COVID-19, if we can get vaccines into arms, it is that simple. We can save lives and end this pandemic. The challenge is ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable – especially those suffering under conflicts – get the COVID-19 vaccines they need. Aid organizations are prepared to do that difficult work. Let’s support them in every way we can.
Thank you, Mr. President.