COVID-19 vaccine: Ensuring that people affected by armed conflict are not forgotten
For people living in conflict areas, access to basic health services is often challenging or impossible. These populations are just as vulnerable to COVID-19 and deserve to be protected from this severe health menace. In addition, the ICRC estimates that more than 60 million people live in areas controlled by non-state armed groups who risk not being included in national vaccine distribution frameworks.
Marginalized communities, including internally displaced persons, migrants, asylum seekers and detainees, must also be included in national vaccination programmes and be recognized as people in need of the health protections the vaccine will provide.
"Health workers or someone with a compromised immune system in regions affected by armed conflict endure the double burden of conflict and COVID-19 in often-forgotten and neglected areas. We believe that people there should have the same right and access to the vaccine as others do," said Robert Mardini, the ICRC's director-general.
In conflict settings, poor health capacities due to the breakdown or destruction of health services, lack of health personnel, precarious infrastructure and disputed borders might hamper vaccine distribution. Reaching front lines and areas controlled by non-state armed groups brings complications such as difficult logistics, the need for travel permissions and reduced availability of electricity and refrigeration. Restrictive measures and sanctions may impede access to these areas.
Together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the ICRC will support National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as they have a leading role in carrying out vaccination programmes and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine in their respective countries.
The ICRC is ready to support national vaccination campaigns and facilitate access to the COVID-19 vaccine by populations in countries affected by armed conflict and violence. Also, the ICRC is ready to use its privileged position and offer its services as a neutral intermediary to ensure access to the vaccine for people living in conflict zones, in areas not under governmental control and in places of detention. Excluding these populations from a COVID-19 vaccine presents a clear risk since no one will be safe until everyone is safe.
The ICRC asks that:
- states ensure the inclusion of populations in humanitarian settings in national vaccination frameworks
- parties to conflict give access to the vaccine to populations under their control and facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations and of the health personnel in charge of vaccinations, in accordance with their legal obligations, including under international humanitarian law
- states support National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which have a key role in COVID-19 vaccination
- states maintain and strengthen routine immunizations and essential health services. Measles and polio campaigns have been suspended in dozens of countries, and at least 80 million children under age 1 are at risk of diseases with significant mortality such as measles, diphtheria and polio. While a COVID-19 vaccine is urgent, other vaccines are also much needed and must be provided.
Community members, Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers and religious and community leaders should be invited to help design and implement vaccine mobilization plans. Engaging communities and providing them with accurate information will be critical for the success of COVID-19 vaccination programmes and the safety of health personnel.
"Together with our International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners, the ICRC is ready to contribute to the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, especially in areas affected by conflict and 'last-mile' areas along the front lines, as well as in places of detention," said Mr Mardini. "We will also prioritize routine vaccinations and work to provide reliable information about vaccines."