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COVID-19 vaccines and inter-American human rights obligations - Resolution No. 1/2021

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(Approved by the IACHR on April 6th, 2021)

A. INTRODUCTION

The pandemic caused by the virus that causes COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented health, economic, and social crisis, both globally and regionally. The development, approval, manufacture, and distribution of safe and effective vaccines are decisive steps toward: i) addressing the risks to life and health posed by the pandemic; ii) reducing the excessive burden on healthcare systems; and iii) mitigating the effects of the public health measures that have been implemented to contain the spread. The measures have had a particularly adverse effect on the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (ESCER), with a differentiated and disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups in the Americas, as well as by persons with COVID-19 and their relatives.

One year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a global effort has led to the development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines that have been approved by the competent health authorities. However, the immunization of a critical mass of the world population — crucial to control the pandemic — is facing a new series of challenges, including new dangerous strains of the virus, the global competition for a limited supply of doses, and public skepticism toward the vaccines. In this scenario, only some States of the region have made rapid progress in immunizing their populations, while there are others where access to doses is limited or the process has not yet begun. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), 90% of people in low-income countries will not have access to any COVID-19 vaccine by 2021.

In this context, it is imperative for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Hereinafter “the Commission or the IACHR”) to promote the just and equitable distribution of the vaccines, particularly with regard to accessibility and affordability for middle and low income countries.
Equity must be a key component, not only among countries but within countries, in order to put an end to the severe phase of this pandemic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) values framework for the allocation and prioritization of COVID-19 vaccination, the overarching goal for the vaccines is to contribute significantly to the equitable protection and promotion of human well-being. Therefore, the vaccines for preventing this virus should be a global and regional public good and be available to all persons, with equity and without discrimination.

The decisions made by the States of the Americas on approval, acquisition, distribution, and access must be informed and governed by their international human rights obligations, as applicable, under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), and the Additional Protocol to the ACHR in the area of economic, social, and cultural rights (Protocol of San Salvador). They also must take a public health approach that is based on the best scientific evidence available.

This Resolution is framed within the continuous work the IACHR has been developing in response to the pandemic from a human rights approach, particularly with the adoption of Resolution 1/2020 regarding Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas and Resolution 4/2020 Establishing Inter-American Guidelines on Human Rights of Persons with COVID-19. Also, the Commission takes note of Resolution No. A/HRC/46/L.25/Rev.1 of 17 March 2021, adopted by acclamation by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in which it calls for ensuring equitable, affordable, timely and universal access by all countries to vaccines to address the coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19), as well as the statements of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in light of the obligations of States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It also takes note of the joint guidance on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines issued by the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers together with other mandates, including the IACHR Rapporteurship on Migrant Persons.

The objective of this Resolution is to help States grasp the scope of their international obligations in the context of decisions on vaccination in order to protect human rights, especially the right to health and life. For such purposes, this document offers specific recommendations based on the principles of equality and nondiscrimination, human dignity, informed consent, transparency, access to information, cooperation, and international solidarity.