Latin American leaders push at UN for free Covid-19 vaccine

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – Latin American leaders have appealed at the United Nations for free access to a future Covid-19 vaccine, urging major powers to share their know-how for the sake of global well-being.

Latin America has taken a heavy blow from Covid-19 with nearly nine million cases and more than 330,000 deaths, one third of the global total, according to an AFP tally based on official data.

“With the pandemic, as with poverty, nobody will be saved on their own,” Argentine President Alberto Fernandez told the UN General Assembly, which is taking place virtually due to the health crisis.

He called on a Covid vaccine to be declared a “global public good.”

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, referring to US-China rivalry over the virus, urged major powers to end “permanent confrontation” and “lead the fight against this pandemic and global recession.”

“On the health front this includes sharing solutions and knowledge, coordinating border openings and closings, and joining forces for the development and availability of an effective and safe vaccine, while working with the poorest and most vulnerable nations,” he said.

Dozens of potential vaccines are being researched around the world but only 11 have reached phase-three clinical trials, in which thousands of people are participating.

The World Health Organisation in late May set up a platform to exchange information on vaccine research.

But the United States has announced its withdrawal from the UN body, calling it biased with China, and has rejected calls for vaccine sharing, accusing others of stealing intellectual property.

China and Russia – which, to wide international skepticism, has already unveiled a vaccine – are also absent from the global Covax initiative that aims to guarantee two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

“Only through this can we have vaccines and technologies free of patents that can be distributed justly with special attention to the most vulnerable,” Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said of Covax.

In their speeches to the General Assembly, Latin American leaders also called for interest-free credit from international lenders in hopes of reducing the economic blow from the health crisis.

The pandemic is set to make the economy of Latin America and the Caribbean contract by 9.1 per cent this year and plunge another 45 million people into poverty, according to a UN projection.

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