Addressing Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccination Access for Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities: A Call to Action for the UN High Commissioner
This statement was delivered by Glenn Payot, UN Advocacy Consultant at Minority Rights Group International, at the occasion of an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on his report on access to COVID-19 vaccines on 16 March 2023.
Mister High Commissioner,
About 6 months ago, in a historic statement, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised alarm at (I quote) “a pattern of unequal distribution within and between countries that replicates slavery and colonial-era racial hierarchies” (end of quote).
Minority Rights Group shares this concern that the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination has been yet another illustration of disparities in access to life-saving health resources both between countries and within countries, leaving behind in particular disadvantaged ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples.
We have documented in a number of countries how these disparities are the result both of direct or indirect discriminatory practices from health actors, and of ill-adapted policies failing to address language barriers, difficulties of access to information or lack of confidence in the vaccines and in national health systems. A study by MRG and our partner in Sri Lanka suggests that distrust in the vaccines was significantly higher among ethnic minorities than among the general population in the country.
Mister High Commissioner,
MRG also shares your concern about the data gap. At the mid-point of the SDG period, and in order to deliver on the central commitment to ‘Leave No One Behind’, clear data about which groups are at risk of being left furthest behind is essential.
In a recent joint report with CREID, we found that among 67 countries where vaccination data had been collected, less than 30 per cent included questions for disaggregation of religion, ethnicity and language. In only 14 per cent of these surveys were disaggregated findings actually published. The largest difference between majority and minority groups was observed in Angola for language, Indonesia and Madagascar for religion, Indonesia and Côte d’Ivoire for ethnicity and Nepal for caste.
We need to learn lessons from this health crisis. To achieve higher rates of vaccinations and truly ‘Leave No One Behind’, it is necessary to look deeper into service availability, vaccine hesitancy and vaccination attitudes.
I thank you.
 UN Committee Decries Racial Discrimination in Global Covid-19 Vaccine Access
 Diversity Impact on Vaccine Equity in Sri Lanka
 No Data is Data
Photo: Screenshot from advocacy statement video
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