Red Cross warns of glaring gap in vaccine roll-out

Switzerland  |  Wed, March 10, 2021  |  08:13 pm

The Red Cross warned Wednesday of a glaring gap in the plans to roll out Covid-19 vaccines around the world, saying remote communities risked missing out.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies aims to assist in the vaccination of 500 million people.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which bills itself as the world’s largest humanitarian network, plans to apply its expertise to the distribution and acceptance of vaccinations in some of the world’s most difficult-to-reach populations.

However, it noted that while vaccine procurement and distribution to airport hubs were important, “too little thought” had been given to the next step: how those doses would be distributed within countries, including the “last mile” in reaching the most remote areas.

The Geneva-based federation reported that it needs 100 million Swiss francs ($111 million, 92.5 million euros) to bridge the logistical gap between vaccines arriving at airports in major cities and remote settlements.

However, the IFRC has only raised 3% of that total so far.

“Without this funding, a divide will exist between the vaccines that will eventually end this pandemic and some of the world’s most vulnerable and isolated people,” said Francesco Rocca, president of the IFRC.

“With such a chasm, the virus will begin to circulate and mutate, causing people to get sick and die.”

The IFRC aims to endorse national vaccination programs, including logistics and combating vaccine effectiveness misinformation.

Off tarmac, into arms

Last week, the Covax global vaccine-sharing facility delivered more than 20 million doses to 20 nations, setting off a program aimed at ensuring developing countries have access to vaccines.

This week, Covax aims to deliver 14.4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to 31 more nations.

“Initiatives like Covax ensure that vaccinations hit the tarmac of airports in participating countries’ capital cities,” Rocca said.

“However, they must be followed by measures aimed at getting those vaccines off the tarmac and into the hands of anyone who needs them.”

The IFRC’s local teams seek to recognize high-risk individuals that may be shielded from authorities due to cultural, linguistic, or social factors.

Its national societies are now assisting vaccination programs, with an estimated seven million people being vaccinated as a result of their efforts, the majority of whom are in the Asia-Pacific region.

Rocca told reporters that Red Cross volunteers and workers in Brazil are vaccinating remote Amazon populations, while attempts to vaccinate unregistered migrants are underway in the Maldives, Greece, and the Czech Republic.

He claimed that the world could not afford to relax its attempts to contain the virus simply because vaccines were being rolled out.

“We must distinguish between the beginning of the end and the end of this pandemic,” Rocca said.

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