UNICEF declares 'nobody is safe' from COVID-19 'until we are all safe' in quest for equitable global vaccine access

United Nations' agency UNICEF is adamant that no one will be safe from COVID-19 until everyone has been vaccinated, including the hardest-to-reach populations in the world's lowest-income countries.

The organisation, which is responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide, has joined forces with global retail giant Cotton On Group to deliver 1 million vaccines to vulnerable communities in remote corners of the globe.

Michelle Sharp, the CEO of UNICEF New Zealand, says COVID-19 cannot be truly eradicated until everyone worldwide has received their jab. 

"We're not going to be able to eradicate COVID globally unless everyone is vaccinated. Our saying is, 'nobody is safe until we are all safe'," she told The AM Show on Tuesday morning.

"It's super important that the hardest-to-reach places are reached. Because we've already been immunising for many, many years, UNICEF has all the infrastructure and the ability to get to some of the hardest-to-reach places globally, which sets us up really nicely."

Cotton On Group is the first retailer to support the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative, aimed at securing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. The coalition, which aims to purchase up to 1.8 billion doses in 2021, is directed by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), with UNICEF as the implementing partner. 

In conjunction with Cotton On Group and its charity, the Cotton On Foundation, the organisation is on a mission to supply the 1 million vaccines to 92 of the world's lowest-income countries.

"Globally, we need to administer 2 billion vaccines," Sharp said. "But to date, only 0.3 percent of those administered have gone to low-income countries… a lot of the wealthier countries in the world are purchasing the vaccines for themselves."

Sharp is encouraging people "to come together" to support the initiative. The fundraising campaign kicked off in stores and online on May 19 and will run until July 4. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of Cotton On Foundation products will go towards the delivery of vaccinations as part of the COVAX response, as well as diagnostic tests and treatments. 

"Partnerships like this are absolutely necessary if we're going to get vaccine equity and ultimately, if we're going to be able to control COVID-19," Sharp said.

Earlier this month, United Nations (UN) chief Antonio Guterres reiterated his belief that vaccine manufacturers should allow companies to produce versions of their shots against the virus.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been discussing waiving patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines, a proposal by South Africa and India, to boost supply to developing countries. Members of the WTO have been assessing signs of progress after seven months of talks. Decisions are based on consensus, so all 164 members must agree to the proposal.

But some UN officials say the waiver discussion is a distraction and an ideological fight that won't solve the problem of scaling up vaccine manufacturing.

The 60 sponsors of the proposal from emerging economies are pitted against wealthier, developed nations - such as Switzerland and the United States - where many pharmaceutical companies are based.

Guterres has long called for COVID-19 vaccines to be made available to all countries and appealed for more money to fund COVAX to ensure equitable global access.

In April, UNICEF called for vaccine Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to be simplified through "voluntary and proactive licensing", but warned this alone wouldn't increase production.