Scores of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers are prepared to ignore a US suggestion to stay home and virtually address the UN General Assembly and gather in person in New York City this week.
The possibility that incoming delegations themselves could pose a health hazard would be an important reminder that countries such as the United States and major European powers have stepped up with vaccinations to vaccinate millions of their people, many smaller, poorer countries, including The pharmaceutical industries lack, have not been able to secure or make their own vaccines.
This reality represents the biggest potential stumbling block to ending the pandemic – and preventing even more infectious strains of the coronavirus, such as the delta variant, from building up resistance to existing vaccines.
It will also underline the world’s so far failure to come up with a unified response to the worst public health crisis in 100 years, which will be at the center of countless speeches by world leaders over the coming two weeks.
“We are concerned about a UN super-spreader program,” US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Friday. “We need to take all measures to ensure that this does not become a super-spreader event.” All travelers entering the US must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. But the fact is that vaccines are so rare around the world that many delegations would be vulnerable.
Thomas-Greenfield called on all countries to ensure that “their actions do not endanger the health and safety of the people of New York, all participants in the United Nations, and do not carry COVID back to their home countries.”
Given that this is the United Nations, high-political ups and downs began with some leaders and nations manipulating the politics of the pandemic in the UN General Assembly to advance political and nationalist goals. have done.
Jair Bolsonaro, who will carry on the tradition of delivering the first speech at the meeting as Brazil’s president, is already pledging to flout the honor system of the world body that calls on all entrants to the UN chamber to be vaccinated .
“Why do you get a vaccine? To have antibodies, okay? My antibody rate is really high. I can show you the documents,” said Bolsonaro, who has consistently ridiculed public health guidelines and himself from Covid-19. have survived, said last week.
Another US rival, Russia, has also tried to turn the knife. After its UN ambassador complained about the need for the vaccine, citing unfairness or bias towards vaccines for people with medical conditions – such as Russia’s Sputnik dose, which was approved by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Not approved – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attacked Moscow.
“If the Russian ambassador is against it, I am for it. I have no words for Vladimir Putin and everything that comes out of Russia,” de Blasio said. “If their vaccine isn’t good enough they should go and use one of the other vaccines. That’s what we’re providing.” The city is offering COVID-19 vaccination to those who want it at the United Nations Headquarters.
Given the current controversy over vaccine mandates in the US, Joe Biden may wish for a diversion from the politics of COVID-19 at the UNGA, where he, as president, has his first chance at the UN chamber to lay out his core foreign policy principles Will happen. a global audience. His decision to attend the event, after his administration suggested that other nations might pass it on for health reasons, is in itself a sign of the reality that after months of lockdown, many leaders are stepping onto the global stage. Missing the chance to hold.
The split between the rich and everyone else over vaccines
The US suggested for the first time that world leaders should virtually “consider” their speeches in a diplomatic note sent by Thomas-Greenfield in August. She also said that the CDC recommended mandatory use of masks at UN Headquarters, proof of negative status for COVID-19 to enter the building and proof of vaccination, if possible.
Thomas-Greenfield wrote, “The United States, as the host country, needs to clarify our call for all meetings and side events organized by the United Nations, beyond the usual debate, to be completely virtual. ” The ambassador plans to conduct a COVID-19 test on Monday in a testing and vaccination van that the US has set up outside the UN headquarters for delegations.
According to the latest list of UN attendees last week, 72 heads of state and 30 heads of government are expected to attend the UN General Assembly in person. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, working to coordinate the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, will attend in November. But French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin are not expected to visit New York. Nor is Iran’s new president, Ibrahim Raisi, who is expected to deliver a virtual address.
Pandemic politics is set to dominate the speeches of world leaders in the sprawling General Assembly hall over the next few weeks.
Jeff Gents, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, stressed last week that the US has purchased 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccination from Pfizer to donate to countries “in most need.” Biden is expected to use his address at the UNGA on Tuesday to urge rich countries to do more to help less affluent countries vaccinate their populations. The White House insists that it is possible for America to give its people a booster shot while helping the rest of the world is yet to come. But global vaccination statistics make a much bigger case.
At least 217 countries and territories have given more than 5 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to CNN research.
This vast disparity is troubling UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The question of access to vaccines for developing countries will be particularly acute this week as countries such as the United States begin to move forward with giving booster shots to those who have already been fully vaccinated. The US Food and Drug Administration voted on Friday to recommend emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s booster shot, including six full vaccinations in Americans 65 and older, as well as those at high risk of severe COVID-19. months later, but not in the general population of people 16 and older.
The delicate path Biden has to take on vaccine politics is just one example of the testing issues he faces when he begins his presidency, a highly unusual UNGA.