Jordan’s King Abdullah calls for vaccine equity at US conference

The king also urges continued work towards a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

ZAATARI CAMP, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 16: Syrian refugees receive free Jordanian government COVID-19 vaccines with a UNHCR facilitating process at the first worldwide Covid-19 vaccination centre in a refugees camp on February 16, 2021 in Mafraq, Jordan. Zaatari, which was created in 2012 as Syrians fled their country's civil war, is the largest such camp for Syrian refugees. Life continues normally in the camp that hosts 78,000 Syrians with a total to-date 35 active corona cases and a total of 2000 cases. 250 random and selective PCR tests continue to be taken on a daily basis in the camp that marked 6 deaths of elderly people as all strict measures taken in the country are executed as well in the camp. (Photo by Jordan Pix/ Getty Images)
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Jordan's King Abdullah said that the global pandemic is the most immediate challenge for the Middle East.

In a pre-recorded address to the US Brookings Institute conference, "The Middle East and the New Administration", King Abdullah urged the international community to ensure global vaccine equity to quell the spread of Covid-19.

“We may be able to avoid further tragedy and high mortality rates by ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines around the world,” he said.

King Abdullah also promoted his country’s inclusion of refugees in its vaccination programme.

Jordan became this year the first country to vaccinate refugees. According to Amman’s vaccination plan, anyone living in the country, including refugees and asylum seekers, is entitled to Covid-19 vaccination free of charge.

“We cannot afford to leave anyone behind,” he said. “Jordan is doing its part and we have once again stepped up to the plate and included refugees in our national Covid response and vaccine distribution plan.”

Refugee inclusion is uniquely critical in stopping the virus’s spread in Jordan. Refugees make up 30 per cent of the population, and a vast majority have integrated into local communities, according to the UNHCR.

Jordanian ambassador to Washington, Dina Kawar, stressed the economic challenges posed to the country by the pandemic.

“We hope that by the end of the year … we can go back to focusing on the economic process and putting ourselves back on track. This has been a very tough year for everyone,” said Ms Kawar.

In his address, King Abdullah also argued that getting the pandemic under control will better enable the region to focus on combating extremist ideology.

“Directing our attention and resources to countering the pandemic has taken away from our focus on fighting terrorism,” he said. “Rising inequalities and emerging crises caused by the pandemic will fuel the recruitment of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabab and Al Qaeda.”

King Abdullah ended his address by calling for continued work towards an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and re-emphasised the importance of a two-state solution.

This is a particularly important subject at the conference, which is focused on the new Biden administration and its role in the Middle East.

In a statement on Tuesday, the US State Department said the Biden administration “reaffirmed the US commitment to advancing prosperity, security and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians and to preserving the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state.”

This marks a change from the Trump administration, which was vague on its position on Palestinian statehood, slashed aid to the Palestinians and moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

“The United States' leadership here is essential,” King Abdullah said. “Jordan will always be ready to play its part in an effort to relaunch peace negotiations.”

“We have to be very clear about [Jordan’s] responsibility in the region,” added Ms Kawar. “American leadership is very important if you want to move forward [in the peace process]. There’s no way to move forward without it ... But at the end of the day, it is [Jordan’s] responsibility, too.”