To be effective, COVID-19 vaccination plans must include migrants
As we prepare for one of the world’s largest vaccination efforts, and on the occasion of International Migrants Day, we are coming to a critical reckoning: the need for inclusive approaches in our health-related thinking and practices has never been more urgent.
- 18 December 2020
- 4 min read
- by International Organization for Migration (IOM)
In order to ensure the well-being of everyone, we must ensure that the most vulnerable – including migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and other people on the move – are not left out of our global efforts to fight back against COVID-19 and other diseases.
A year after the beginning of the crisis, there continues to be tremendous suffering related to the pandemic, and it is too often those who most need support, protection and assistance have the least access to it.
Migrants have also been on the front lines of the response to the pandemic, taking personal risks for the well-being of their host communities, across many critical sectors: health, food, transport, research, hygiene and others.
Currently, IOM estimates that there are nearly 272 million international migrants, in addition to 80 million forcibly displaced persons, more than two thirds of whom are displaced within the borders of their countries due to conflict or natural disasters. Contrary to popular perception, most of these forcibly displaced persons are in low- or middle-income countries, which often have weaker health systems and struggle to meet the health needs of their population.
The list of difficulties that migrants and forcibly displaced persons face across the world remains far too long. Exclusion from health services happens due to legal requirements, language barriers, prohibitive costs and other factors. IOM has seen it time and again with COVID-19 testing and lack of access to essential health services. This is in addition to the frequently dangerous circumstances that mobile populations face before, during and after their journeys, which often place them at higher risk of falling ill. For example, they may live or work in overcrowded or unsafe conditions, have limited access to clean water and sanitation, or have disrupted continuity of care because of their itinerant status.
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This year, we have learned the hard way that no one’s health is protected until everyone’s health is protected – and when we fail to protect everyone’s health, it can have serious, devastating impacts on all aspects of our societies, including our social, economic and cultural fabric. Migrants have been particularly hard hit by the public health crisis and its broader consequences.
Migrants have also been on the front lines of the response to the pandemic, taking personal risks for the well-being of their host communities, across many critical sectors: health, food, transport, research, hygiene and others. In most high-income countries, migrants make up a large share of health workers. For example, the OECD reports that, in the last decade, the number of foreign-born doctors and nurses in OECD countries grew by 20%.
As IOM stands ready to support national authorities and other international organisations in the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, we call on governments to include all migrants present in their territories – no matter their legal status – in their vaccine deployment considerations, so that those at high risk of severe disease or death can be reached. As frontline health workers are prioritised, let’s not forget the countless migrant frontline health workers. As the elderly are prioritised, so should elderly migrants. With their extensive experience in carrying out mass vaccination campaigns in response to outbreaks, as well as routine immunisation activities for migrants and displaced populations, IOM’s health teams are well prepared to collaborate with key partners to reach these groups with COVID-19 vaccines.
IOM is honoured to partner with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and to build on the memorandum of understanding signed on 24 November to improve immunisation coverage for migrants. IOM looks forward to working closely with the UN system, humanitarian partners and the COVAX Facility to ensure that vaccines reach everyone in need, including migrants and forcibly displaced persons in hard-to-reach locations and emergency settings.
Today, more than ever, fairness, equity and inclusion could save thousands of lives.