‘Vaccine nationalism is a moral catastrophe’ – a message to the People’s Vaccine rally

‘Vaccine nationalism is a moral catastrophe’ – a message to the People’s Vaccine rally

Graça Machel

By: Graça Machel
Date: 12 March 2021
Campaigns: Pharma

Due to unforseen circumstances, Graça Machel was unable to attend the online People’s Vaccine rally on Wednesday. Here are her prepared remarks.

Today, on the People’s Vaccine Global Day of Action, we mark a year since we as a global family have been confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together, humanity has shared in the collective trauma of managing an unfathomable magnitude of sickness and death in our midst.

Together, in every corner of the globe, courageous frontline healthcare workers have given blood, sweat and tears to manage the onslaught of this virus.

Together, we have navigated the shifts to a virtual world and the disruption of livelihoods and ways of living that has brought about, as well as new demands of home life that required us to care for each other, educate our children and connect with loved ones in ways previously unimagined.

Together, we have applied the best of our medical and scientific minds, as well as all facets of our public health infrastructure to produce lifesaving vaccines at unprecedented speed and scale. Top notch experts and brave ordinary citizens alike are standing shoulder to shoulder in this fight as clinical trials are running from townships in South Africa and communities in Brazil to laboratories in Belgium and India. You see, we are all in the battlefield together.


We are beginning to see dangerous, evil cracks surface in our unity and the divides of socio-economic inequalities becoming even more stark. The economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic continues to be devastating: hundreds of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly 690 million, could increase by up to 132 million by the end of the year. UNESCO has laid bare the horrific statistic that some 1.52 billion students are out of school worldwide and that almost 10 million children may never return to school following COVID-19 lockdown.

No one has been left unscathed. And therefore no one should be left without immunity to the virus, and the gift of resilience that the vaccine brings along with it. It is for this very reason that the vaccine is a human right for all. Vaccine equity is not just a public health concern, it is an issue of social justice and a matter of our collective survival. Nobody will be protected against COVID-19 until everybody is. There will be no economic or social recovery for anyone, in any country, unless we prioritize an equal global health recovery.

Human lives are equal in value no matter the geographic lottery of birthplace. Everyone, I repeat—everyone! Every single human being no matter where they live in the world— needs and deserves access to life-saving vaccines.

Vaccine nationalism is a moral catastrophe. History will judge us harshly should we not marshall every resource at our disposal and stretch the bounds of our imaginations to make sure we get vaccines in the arms of those who need it from Maputo to Mexico City to Mumbai.

Together, we need to continue reimaging our ways of being:

  • A waiver from WTO on intellectual property protection for COVID-related medical products is imperative.
  • Pharmaceutical Companies must understand that vaccines are a common good and not a commodity for their profit alone. I urge them to listen to the world clamoring for not-for-profit pricing of vaccine doses and other COVID-19 tools for the duration of the pandemic.
  • We cannot operate as business as usual. We have to normalize unusual business practices — increase manufacturing capacity, share IP and license vaccines to other companies to maximize supply.
  • Governments, private sector, multilaterals and philanthropists need to come together with increased solidarity and increase financing for COVAX.
  • And COVAX must provide timely and transparent information to recipient countries on pricing as well as expected supply and delivery schedules.

A moral catastrophe should not be allowed to happen. We must act with collective responsibility and solidarity as a human family to ensure each one of us is able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Dare not let us be the ones to deny ourselves and generations to come the dignity of sound health and life, and victory over COVID-19.

I thank you.

Watch the People’s Vaccine rally in full here >>

Graça Machel is an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.

Photo: Zahur Ramji/Mediapix