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Joint statement by Joining Forces Asia: Governments must ensure fair, transparent, and gender-responsive COVID-19 vaccine distribution programs

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Introduction

Although children have been spared the worst of the direct health effects of COVID-19, the pandemic has disrupted the delivery of essential health services and lives of hundreds of millions of girls and boys across the Asia-Pacific region. With the global rollout of vaccines finally gathering pace, it is essential that they are equitably distributed in order to help children’s lives return to normal. We, the undersigned child rights organizations from the Joining Forces Coalition, urge Asia-Pacific governments, guided by their respective National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups (NITAGs), to ensure that vaccine distribution plans take into consideration a child-sensitive approach. In this joint statement, we highlight four key ways of doing so: prioritizing frontline workers essential to children’s learning and protection in vaccination plans; ensuring the most vulnerable, including refugee and migrant families, have access to vaccinations; prioritizing a gender-sensitive response; and clearly and transparently informing the public about efforts to roll out vaccinations.

Protect and prioritize the essential workers

All children in all countries are affected differently by the pandemic, and public health responses have impacted children’s physical health, mental well-being, education, social development, protection, and participation. As such, the response to the pandemic must recognize that COVID-19 has distinct effects on children in early childhood and children in adolescence, on girls and boys and other children, or on children with and without disabilities. Children in street situations, in conflict-affected areas, in alternative care, in informal settlements, in the context of migration, and in other situations of vulnerability need special protection measures.

Unfortunately, such measures have come under strain from COVID-19. For instance, UNICEF’s socioeconomic impact survey of the pandemic response shows that child protection services have been disrupted in 104 countries, limiting access to prevention and response services for 1.8 billion children, with countries in South Asia having the highest proportion of disruptions, followed by Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 90% of countries have faced disruptions to essential health services during the pandemic, with low- and middle-income countries worst affected, while 168,000 more children under five could die due to malnutrition by 2022 due to the pandemic.