NEW YORK – Two years after the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration, the unrelenting spread of the COVID-19 virus has fractured the bedrock of public health systems, claimed millions of lives, sickened tens of millions of people, and further exacerbated health disparities globally. Marking the two-year anniversary, the following statement is attributable to Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR):
“In two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than six million people around the world. After 24 long months and billions of vaccine doses distributed globally, more than 7,000 people are still dying daily and hundreds of thousands continue to be hospitalized each day – many of whom will suffer from long-standing health issues that will impact health systems and communities for years to come.
“While the number of lives lost increases each day, this two-year marker should serve as a stark reminder to the global community that this pandemic is far from being behind us. The daily case count remains well into the millions, global health systems continue to be ravaged by overcrowding and understaffing, and governments are actively struggling to equitably allocate vaccine doses.
“As high-income countries roll back mask mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements, we risk losing the gains we have made by prematurely behaving as if the pandemic is over. In reality, millions of people remain critically vulnerable to the virus, without having received even a first dose of the vaccine. We cannot allow the ‘new normal’ to be defined as a world in which the socioeconomically disadvantaged remain at risk or lose their lives in the face of indifference from the privileged.
“The prioritization of global vaccine equity remains paramount. Wealthy countries and major pharmaceutical companies must recognize the irreversible damage COVID-19 continues to inflict on health systems, industries, economies, and people across the world and more robustly share vaccine technology and production means with countries in dire need of immediate access. Governments should be focused on accelerating the development of necessary infrastructure to ensure vaccine distribution is feasible, efficient, and scalable to address the millions without access to lifesaving vaccines.
“Let it be repeated time and time again: we must follow the science. No one country can succeed in defeating this virus alone. Until equitable vaccine allocation is adequately addressed at a global level, too many people throughout the world will continue to lose loved ones for months and years to come.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.