‘Let’s End This Pandemic, Once and For All’, Secretary-General Tells High-Level Meeting, Urging Gaps in Testing, Vaccines, Preparedness to Be Closed

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks for the high‑level event on ending the COVID-19 Pandemic through equitable access to tests, treatments and vaccines, in New York today:

We meet at a time when our world is challenged on all fronts.  Most of those challenges — particularly rising poverty and inequalities — have been aggravated by a pandemic that continues to upend lives, livelihoods and economies.

This is the third United Nations General Assembly taking place under the shadow of COVID-19.  Despite the heroic efforts of front-line health workers, health systems around the world were woefully unprepared for the devastation of this virus.  And while no country was spared, low and even middle-income countries continue to suffer the worst impacts.

At the same time, we can draw strength from some inspiring progress.  We are seeing rising vaccination coverage in all countries — particularly among high-risk populations.  Only 10, mostly those facing humanitarian emergencies, remain below 10 per cent vaccine coverage.

On average, countries have vaccinated 75 per cent of their health‑care workers and other populations.  New oral antiviral drugs are coming on board.  Combined with testing, these offer a clear path to preventing deaths among the most vulnerable.  But, they must be available for all.  We need to learn the inequities that we faced in relation to vaccine distribution.

And countries are increasingly integrating COVID-19 measures into routine health services and programmes.  The lessons from these successes are clear.  The virus is treatable.  We can save lives.  And we can bring the virus under control — even among high-risk populations.  If we could combine these tools with greater ambition among world leaders, we could end the pandemic this year.  But, that requires closing three major gaps.

First, we must close the booster gap.  Vaccine booster coverage remains low everywhere.  But, low-income countries, in particular, are still struggling — with only 35 per cent of health‑care workers, and 31 per cent of older populations, fully vaccinated and boosted.  Our top priority continues to be getting vaccines into arms.  This must include addressing the shadow pandemic of vaccine hesitancy, and countering misinformation with lifesaving facts.

Second, we must close the testing gap.  Testing rates are plummeting everywhere, exposing the world to potential variants and undermining the roll-out of new treatments.  Giving these new medicines a chance means dramatically expanding testing and treatment coverage, especially for low and middle-income countries.

And third, we must close the preparedness gap.  Now is the time to strengthen our defence against future threats by investing in early warning systems, local manufacturing and diagnostic capabilities, and a well-paid, well‑supplied health workforce.  We must never be caught so unprepared again.

Making progress towards closing these gaps is what today is all about.  It’s time to build political momentum to finish the job on COVID-19.  Let’s get it done.  Let’s end this pandemic, once and for all.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.