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UN Chief Calls on Rich Nations to Implement Global Vaccine Task Force 

FILE - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
FILE - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

The U.N. secretary-general called on the world’s largest economies Wednesday to create a task force to plan and coordinate a global COVID-19 vaccination plan.

“The world urgently needs a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities,” Antonio Guterres told a high-level virtual meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the global vaccine rollout. “I believe the G-20 is well-placed to establish an emergency task force to prepare such a global vaccination plan and coordinate its implementation and financing.”

He said the task force should include the World Health Organization (WHO), the global vaccine alliance Gavi, international financial institutions, as well as the international vaccine alliance COVAX, and all countries that have the capacity to develop vaccines or produce them if licenses are available.

“The task force would have the capacity to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors,” Guterres added.

Leaders of the G-7 are holding a virtual summit this Friday, and Guterres said they could use that session to create momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources.

“The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is generating hope,” he noted, but warned that people affected by conflict and insecurity are at risk of being left behind.

US to pay WHO

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his international debut at the online meeting. He said the Biden administration will work with partners to expand COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity, and increase access, including to marginalized populations.

He also said Washington would pay over $200 million in assessed and current obligations to WHO by the end this month. Funding stopped to the organization last year under the Trump administration, which did not like how WHO handled the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member,” Blinken said. “It reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic, even as we work to reform it for the future.”

India to vaccinate UN peacekeepers

Security Council member India, which is a major pharmaceutical manufacturer and is currently producing two vaccines, one of which it developed, announced it would contribute 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the U.N. peacekeeping division to inoculate their troops and police.

The United Nations has about 95,000 peacekeepers, which means double doses could be available to all of them.

Britain presides over the 15-nation Security Council this month and organized Wednesday’s session, which drew nine foreign ministers and one prime minister.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called for a U.N. Security Council resolution to facilitate COVID-19 vaccines to millions of people in conflict areas.

“Local cease-fires are going to be essential to enable lifesaving vaccinations to take place, and they are essential to protect the brave health workers and humanitarian workers working in incredibly challenging conditions in conflict zones,” Raab said.

He said that more than 160 million people are at risk of not receiving COVID-19 vaccinations because of instability and conflict in places including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

In July, after three months of negotiations, the council adopted a resolution supporting the U.N. secretary-general’s global cease-fire to assist international containment efforts. It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether the British proposal for smaller cease-fires would have the council’s full support.

China’s foreign minister also participated. Beijing has been the subject of some international criticism for its handling of the coronavirus and for a lack of transparency about its origin in the city of Wuhan.

“We need to resist prejudice, respect science and reject disinformation and attempts to politicize the pandemic,” Wang Yi said. “In this regard, members of the Security Council should lead by example.”

He also said China would help realize vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.

“At the request of the WHO, China has decided preliminarily to donate 10 million doses of Chinese vaccine to help developing countries,” he announced.

The U.N. says progress on vaccinations has been extremely uneven and unfair, with just 10 countries having administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines, while more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.