The IACHR and REDESCA express their concern over the lack of universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in the Americas, calling for regional solidarity with low-income countries

October 25, 2021

Washington D.C.- Given the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) express their concern about the existing obstacles to universal and equitable access to vaccines, especially for low- and middle-income countries; in particular, with respect to certain groups in situations of extreme vulnerability and historical exclusion.

Ten months after the start of immunization against COVID-19 in the region, the Commission and REDESCA emphatically reiterate that vaccines are a global and regional public good. As such, it requires not only that concrete measures be taken to ensure that they reach all people —under the principle of equality and non-discrimination—, but also that equity be a key component for its distribution between and within countries. This within the framework of the obligations derived from the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as the American Convention on Human Rights and the Protocol of San Salvador. Likewise, in accordance with the recommendations established by the IACHR to address the pandemic with a human rights-based approach, through its Resolutions No. 1/2020, No. 4/2020, No. 1/2021, and other pronouncements made within the framework of its SACROI-COVID19, to which it calls upon the States to effectively implement.

The IACHR and its REDESCA note that the region accounts for approximately 30% of global deaths from COVID-19, although it represents only 8.4% of the population. There is also a significant disparity at regional level, where, as of July, while in some North American countries the proportion of the population with a complete vaccination schedule was approximately 49.3%, in Latin America and the Caribbean the rate was 16.8% (with South America at 17.2%, Central America at only 7.4% and the Caribbean at 10%), with some countries not even reaching 1% inoculation. Thus, at the end of September, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned that even though more than a billion COVID-19 doses had been administered in the Americas since they became available, only 35% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean had been fully immunized. Therefore, although as of October there are some countries in the region that have vaccinated more than 70% of their population, the majority do not exceed 40% coverage with a complete vaccination schedule, of which six countries have not even reached 20% of their population and would require more international support - Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua-. In this regard, the Organization of American States (OAS) has estimated that 90% of people in low-income countries will not have access to any Covid-19 vaccine by 2021. For its part, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), predicts that the region will not reach 80% of its population vaccinated this year.

This situation, which has the potential to prolong the global and regional health emergency, would be the result not only of the presence of dangerous variants -such as Delta or P1 of the coronavirus, with greater viral load and transmission capacity-, but also due to unequal access to vaccines between and within countries, with a disproportionate impact on low- and middle-income countries, where, as of September, only 20% of people would have received the first dose of the vaccine, compared to 80% of people in high- and upper-middle-income countries. In the same direction, it is noted that various vulnerable groups, such as people of African descent, indigenous peoples, people in situations of human mobility, people in dispersed rural areas or areas of difficult access, people living on the streets, among others, were not prioritized in national vaccination plans in most of the countries of the region.

This situation is compounded by a complex regional panorama, which to date has been characterized by high public skepticism towards vaccines, the absence of vaccination plans and roadmaps for immunization, as well as delays in the implementation of vaccination plans in some countries of the region or the lack of their active dissemination. Likewise, in at least five countries in the region, acts of corruption in the immunization process have come to light, in which access to vaccines was irregularly prioritized for political personalities, public officials and/or well-known businesspeople, together with their close relatives, despite the fact that they were not part of the priority groups.

In the same vein, the priority of intellectual property over human rights is observed with concern, which has resulted in the absence of sufficient exchange of information and technology on vaccination and treatments, as well as in the lack of consensus to release vaccine patents, and with it, delays in the production of more vaccines and related treatments to address COVID-19. This together with the prevalence of secrecy and opacity in the contracts signed with pharmaceutical companies to acquire antigens, in which various confidentiality clauses have been included that prevent effective access to information and are detrimental to the obligation of active transparency and the negotiating capacity of the States.

In this scenario, the IACHR and its REDESCA are concerned about the announcements and plans to provide booster doses against COVID-19 by some States, of which almost a third of the countries of the Americas have initiated or are about to initiate the application of booster doses. This, while in most countries of the region a large proportion of people still do not even receive the first dose -including, in some cases, health personnel and priority groups, such as the elderly or those living with pre-existing health conditions-. It should be noted that it is precisely those countries that have already made use of most of the COVID-19 vaccine supply that are advancing this type of initiative.

In this scenario, and taking into account the inter-American obligations on this matter, the IACHR and REDESCA call on member states of the Organization of American States to:

  • Implement national plans that ensure equitable and universal access to vaccines without discrimination and that consider the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) values framework is stressed.
  • To guarantee, under differentiated, intersectional and intercultural approaches, the active dissemination of adequate and sufficient information on vaccines, vaccination plans and information related to the acquisition, importation, distribution, prioritization and application of vaccines, in addition to control and oversight processes and procedures.
  • To address public skepticism towards vaccines, implement concrete actions that contribute to strengthen security in public health institutions and scientifically based knowledge about the safety of vaccines against COVID-19 and its development process.

Based on the availability of sufficient and adequate information, and in the interest of saving lives based on the principle of solidarity, the Commission and its REDESCA call on everyone who has the possibility of being vaccinated to move forward with their immunization process, not only to safeguard their health and life, but also to contribute to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the IACHR and its REDESCA make a strong call to eradicate corruption in the distribution and application of vaccines, as well as to ensure that intellectual property, patents and business secrecy do not continue to be an impediment to the right to health in the context of a pandemic. Furthermore, the Commission and its REDESCA adhere to the WHO's call to implement a moratorium on booster doses until at least the end of the year so that at least 40% of the population in all countries is vaccinated and the vaccination gap does not continue to widen.

In this regard, the IACHR urges the strengthening of international cooperation to coordinate effective regional actions to promote technological development and the exchange of information and technology in the area of vaccination and treatment against COVID-19, in order to strengthen the production capacities of medicines and essential health technologies against COVID-19 in the Americas. On this subject, the IACHR and its REDESCA take note of the approval by the member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) of the lines of action and proposals for self-sufficiency in health matters in Latin America and the Caribbean prepared by ECLAC. In the same vein, they highlight PAHO's initiative, in collaboration with WHO, to produce mRNA vaccines in the region.

The Commission and its REDESCA reiterate that international cooperation should be guided by the principle of international solidarity, so that measures associated with restrictions on human mobility in the context of the pandemic -including health passports or other documents for proof of immunization against COVID-19- should observe the principles of equality and non-discrimination, as well as the particularities of the vaccination plans of the countries of origin. Consequently, the imposition of this type of measures should avoid providing information that is not based on scientific knowledge and that becomes a vector of misinformation about vaccines and their safety.

The aforementioned, in order to guarantee the right to health, the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, other ESCER and human rights as a whole, in the context of the pandemic and its consequences. Specifically, it calls for these actions to have a human rights approach and be guided by the principle of international solidarity, particularly addressing the challenges for access to vaccines against COVID-19 by low-income countries. The foregoing, in accordance with the provisions of Resolution 1/2020 on Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas, Resolution 4/2020 on the rights of persons with COVID-19 and Resolution 1/2021 on COVID-19 vaccines within the framework of inter-American human rights obligations.

Finally, in view of the serious risks that continue to be generated by the lack of universal, equitable and timely access to vaccines against COVID-19 in the region, the IACHR and its REDESCA urge the adoption of public policies, including fiscal policies, that allow for an equitable redistribution of vaccines and the strengthening of social protection systems and health systems.

REDESCA is an Office of the IACHR specially created to support the Commission in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

The IACHR is a principal, autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body of the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their individual capacity, and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 282/21

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