Access to Vaccines, a Question of Social Justice

On the occasion of the World Day of Social Justice, Dianova supports the call for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines globally


To beat the pandemic, responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in better outcome – photo: Jobs, Justice and Climate rally in Toronto (2015), Image: Shutterstock

By the Editorial Team – In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to celebrate the World Day of Social Justice on 20 February. Each year, this day is an opportunity for all of us to remember that social justice is essential to achieve and maintain social development, peace and security.

What exactly is social justice?

Social justice is the principle of fairness as it manifests in society. This principle implies the need for collective solidarity among people in society. Social justice depends on four essential principles, without which it cannot exist: respect for human rights, being able to access essentials like shelter, food, education, and healthcare, the ability for all to participate in decisions and to make their voices heard, and, finally, the principle of equity.

And what social justice implies

In short, social justice is about providing equal opportunities for all.

This doesn’t guarantee that society will be perfect and everyone will always be happy. It will however give everyone a fighting chance at the life they want, without being held back by systemic obstacles or discrimination.

Some pressing issues

Depending on the nation, some social justice issues are more pressing than others, but most societies are now struggling with similar issues: racial inequality – in finding work or housing, pursuing education, getting access to healthcare, etc.; LGBTQ+ rights; gender equality; and now, the issue of COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccines

TV news broadcast platforms provides us with a wealth of detailed information about the successes and failure of countries in vaccinating their populations. Israel is in the lead, the United Kingdom is well placed, Europe is in difficulty, and so on. It seems to be a global race… So much for solidarity between nations.

In December last year, a group of campaigning organisations blew the whistle warning that nearly 70 poor countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people against COVID-19 this year.


Even within rich countries discrimination abounds: in New York City, for example, there is stark disparities in vaccine rollout: in wealthier areas residents have received shots at much higher rates that low-income communities. At the same time, some areas hardest hit by the virus are lagging behind. Equitable access to vaccination is also a concern in the old continent: the Council of Europe has recently called on Member States to implement strategies tailored to the needs of disadvantaged people in terms of access to healthcare and vaccination.

Covid Vaccine

Pharmaceutical companies must share their technology and intellectual property so that safe and effective vaccines can be available to all who need them – photo: Shutterstock

Between ‘vaccine diplomacy’ and global solidarity

After the race for vaccines, the world has now moved on to the race for vaccination, which within a few months has become a geopolitical issue and a first-rate diplomatic tool. Certain countries such as India, China and the United Arab Emirates are now utilizing this new diplomatic currency, doling out donations in countries where they seek sway. One could say that this is only fair game, and that Europe and the United States have done the same on numerous occasions… Except that, the former have a slight propensity to forget the pressing needs of their own populations.

One dares to hope, however, that all is not about struggling for power. Actually, real solidarity initiatives have been promoted and developed, such as the COVAX mechanism. COVAX, implemented by WHO and GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, among others, aims to coordinate international resources for the implementation of equitable access to diagnostics, treatment and vaccines against COVID-19. The initiative has received €500 million in funding from the European Union.

Call to action for a vaccine for all

In a report published in April last year, the United Nations recalled that responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in better outcome in beating the pandemic. Above all, they focus our attention on who is suffering most, why, and what can be done about it.

Equity in COVID-19 vaccination is a global necessity. That is why we join the call by several international organizations that the pharmaceutical companies working on these vaccines must share their technology and intellectual property so that billions more doses can be manufactured and safe and effective vaccines can be available to all who need them.

In addition, Governments must do everything in their power to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are made a global public good, free of charge to  the public and distributed fairly and based on need.

This is a huge challenge, and a matter of social justice.