(Photo by: ICRC)

COVID-19: People living in conflict zones cannot be forgotten in global vaccination effort

COTABATO CITY – Ahead of the World Health Assembly, the ICRC is shining a light on the millions of people who continue to be at risk from COVID-19: those living through conflict and armed violence who are yet to receive a single dose of a vaccine.

“Two years on, our fatigue around the pandemic cannot cloud the fact that it is not over and that new and potentially deadly virus variants remain a real threat to our return to normalcy and most importantly, human lives,” said Sophie Sutrich, head of ICRC’s COVID-19 management team. 

“The Omicron variant shows what can happen when large pockets of people are unvaccinated, leading to viral replication and the possible emergence of variants that vaccines don't cover. Controlling this virus – and future viruses—will only be possible if we invest in health care systems and make sure that everyone is included in vaccination efforts, including those in hard-to-reach conflict zones,” said Sutrich.

The WHO estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the deaths of nearly 15 million people globally, a devastating statistic that underscores both the urgency to make vaccines available to everyone and to invest in health care systems. Armed conflict takes a heavy toll on health care systems, leaving infrastructure damaged or neglected and complicating supply chains.

The ICRC, therefore, facilitates vaccinations in last-mile areas by helping gain access across frontlines through its neutral humanitarian work, and by helping with the logistics of transport and cold chains. 

Countries in conflict often have inherent challenges for carrying out vaccinations such as a lack of cold chain and storage capacities, a lack of electricity, poor health capacities due to a breakdown of health services, a lack of health personnel, and precarious infrastructure including difficult and underdeveloped road networks.

All too often in conflict zones, health care workers come under fire or are forced to flee. When doctors and nurses and the clinics and hospitals where they work aren't protected by parties to a conflict, their entire communities suffer. It often means people are left with nowhere to go to seek care, let alone COVID-19 vaccines.

The ICRC is working urgently to get vaccines in the arms of some of the most vulnerable populations, working with International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners around the world to support COVID-19 vaccination in armed conflicts