Why conflict-affected children must have free and fair access to the COVID-19 vaccine - now

March 1, 2021

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In addition to the staggering loss of lives, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a catastrophic social, educational and mental health crisis for conflict-affected children. Find out how ensuring urgent, equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine can halt the creation of a lost generation of children - and how War Child is taking a stand against this massive injustice.

A global assault on the right to health

Unequal access to the COVID-19 vaccine is proving to be an assault on millions of people’s rights to health - threatening a global physical and mental health crisis not seen in decades. Of the hundreds of million of vaccines administered so far, 75 per cent have been given in just 10 countries. And not a single vaccine dose has so far reached 2.5 billion people living in 130 lower- and middle-income countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced plans to immunise 27 per cent of the population in lower-income countries by the end of 2021: but only “if the forecast comes to pass - and that is a big if.” This still leaves 73 per cent of people in these countries who will not be vaccinated this year.

The role of Big Pharma

This crisis is being predominantly fuelled by global vaccine manufacturers actively prioritizing profits over lives. So far, not one firm has been willing to freely share its health technology-related knowledge, intellectual property, production process or data with other manufacturers.

This is directly affecting global vaccine production and the delivery of affordable, life-saving vaccines distributed on an equitable basis. In essence, it is ensuring that those who can afford it are first to get it.

With reduced access, conflict-affected children will experience increased economic and social hardship. They will have a slower return to education and reduced protection. And have little to no physical or mental support from the important adults in their lives.

War Child is calling for an immediate end to this injustice. You can contribute by supporting a European citizens' initiative to put our health before laboratory profits. Sign the petition here.

Why urgent action is needed

Firstly, the social measures imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19 limit children’s ability to cope with existing anxieties in their lives. This lifts their stress levels further still. This is even more so for those with pre-existing mental health conditions. Equitable access to the vaccine would significantly reduce this.

Secondly, the social measures imposed limit children’s ability to access the support, resources and livelihoods that the adults in their lives largely provide. When children, particularly those from refugee, internally displaced and other marginalised communities, don’t get the necessary support they need from the significant adults in their lives, their short and long-term development is often irreversibly affected.

Equitable access to the vaccine places parents, caregivers and frontline mental health and psychosocial support workers in a far stronger position to support them and care for them.

Thirdly, children forced out of school in a crisis are at higher risk of child abuse, neglect and dropping out of school altogether. This is particularly the case for girls. Their protective environment and the level of care they would usually receive is lost. Equitable access to the vaccine would protect them more and provide easier access to educational and other adult support.

Addressing this injustice

War Child’s position on addressing the crisis is to ensure conflict-affected children and their communities have equitable, affordable and immediate access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This would:

  1. Minimise the additional psychological stresses children experience in a pandemic
  2. Increase the livelihoods, resources and psychosocial support children can have access to - via their parents and caregivers.
  3. Improve children’s access to educational and health services and protection


To achieve this, War Child urges that all humanitarian support for conflict-affected children incorporates specific actions to secure equitable, affordable and immediate access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This can be achieved by:

  • Ensuring all COVID-19 manufacturers commit to sharing their health technology-related knowledge, intellectual property and data about the vaccines which would allow other producers worldwide to maximise their production of the vaccine and accelerate the end of the pandemic.
  • Ensuring governments provide the necessary funding to ensure fair, affordable and equitable access to the vaccine to all children, no matter their situation.


You can help international efforts to put justice before profits - by signing the European Citizens’ Initiative on the equitable access to the vaccine. Sign the petition here.

You can support a European Citizens' Initiative if you are an EU citizen (i.e. if you are a citizen of an EU member state and you are old enough to vote in European elections (18 years in most cases, 16 in others). More info here.