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With the Emergence of Omicron - Women Frontline Healthcare Workers and Vaccine Equity Still Key to Addressing COVID

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The following statement can be attributed to Ritu Sharma, CARE Vice President for US Programs and Policy:

For two years now, CARE and many others have been repeating: no one is safe until everyone is safe. Omicron proves—again—that this is the hard truth. New variants will continue to menace the globe if we keep failing to invest in last-mile vaccine delivery. Getting to 70% means immediate significant investments in women frontline healthcare workers and healthcare systems in low-income countries. Women are on the frontlines fighting this pandemic. And they are the solution.

You can make pills, give boosters, and even increase vaccine production, but you won’t end the pandemic or the emergence of new variants without a significant investment in last-mile delivery. This means an immediate, significant investment in women frontline healthcare workers and healthcare systems in Lower and Middle Income Countries.  Because it is not about vaccines, it’s about vaccinations in arms. The arms of 70% of the global population. The only people that can get us there are the frontline healthcare workers in the field, administrating the vaccine, albeit operating against the backdrop of dilapidated health systems, non-existent infrastructure, or failing states.

And yet, even though 70 percent of these frontline and community healthcare workers across the globe are women, none of the solutions presented to address COVID so far have been adequately built around their needs or their role in ending the pandemic.  None have sufficiently focused on alleviating the secondary impacts of COVID on their lives, as healthcare workers, but also women in their community –unpaid caregivers and primary wage earners. And, none have truly focused on investing specifically and significantly in these women, the local groups they lead, or the community health systems that support them, without which last mile delivery will be nearly impossible.

In fact, two years in, the pandemic is still raging in so much of the world, yet still only around 5% of people in lower income countries have been fully vaccinated, because of our moral and political failure to center the role of these women, and our lack foresight in how critical they are to ending the pandemic.   Soon, ramped up production of vaccines means that LMIC will have to delivery 7.5 times more vaccines a month than ever have before. That means we are rapidly approaching a moment where the whole world will watch as the vaccine doses it just manufactured and shared sit and expire in ports and warehouses.

A serious investment in last-mile delivery that centers the role of women healthcare workers is not a choice. It is the missing piece of the puzzle everyone has so far been dancing around.  It is how we avoid the next variant and combat this one. So, CARE’s question is, what will change at the next Global COVID Summit? Will we be able to say we mustered the political will to make the bold global investments necessary to end the pandemic? Or will we miss the moment, the moment we created, and allow the pandemic to continue to spread and mutate around the world devastating our own attempts at recovery?

The choices we make now will decide that future.

For More Information: Rachel Kent Senior Press Officer Rachel.Kent@care.org