Valentina Matvienko: It is imperative to develop global approaches to vaccination and to agree on mutual recognition of vaccines

The Federation Council Speaker gave a speech at the European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments that is taking place in Athens.

The international community urgently needs to develop common approaches to vaccination and agree on mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates. There is more to it than just individuals’ right to travel freely. Global health security is largely determined by the level of immunisation around the world. This is what Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko said.

The Speaker took part in the opening of the European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments and made a keynote speech at the first meeting of the session dedicated to “Democracies facing the Covid-19 public health crisis: sharing experiences.” The event was held in Athens under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

 “If we really want to neutralise Covid, it is time to stop using the pandemic for political games and to put an end to unscrupulous methods of commercial competition in this sphere. The main human right — the right to life and health — must be put at the forefront. There is no doubt that vaccines should be available to all people around the world,” the Federation Council Speaker said.

She noted that the coronavirus pandemic has become a real challenge for the entire international community and the institutions of democracy. “We, parliamentarians, had to take unpopular measures and make difficult decisions, which often created major inconveniences in day-to-day life. Sanitary restrictions have dealt a tangible blow to national economies and individual incomes, and unemployment has increased,” the Federation Council Speaker said.

“Were these decisions necessary? Absolutely. Otherwise, we would not have been able to contain the epidemic, and the fallout could have been much more tragic.”

Certain restrictions on individual rights and freedoms in emergency situations, Valentina Matvienko said, are provided for by national legislations and international legal acts, including the European Convention on Human Rights. This is confirmed by the recommendations that have been developed over the past 18 months within the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly.

“The balance between mandated restrictions and guarantees of rights and freedoms had to be re-established constantly as the pandemic waves rolled in one after another. In our work we were guided by the key democratic right, which is the right of every individual to life, and strived to avoid unjustified administrative coercion,” the Federation Council Speaker said.

The Federation Council Speaker told about the effective measures that had been taken in Russia to combat the spread of the coronavirus and to support businesses and individuals. “At the peak of the pandemic, we managed to quintuple the number of infectious hospital beds in the country, to significantly increase the volume of lab diagnostics, and to provide the public with the necessary medicines and personal protective equipment free of charge. A legislative package of measures to mitigate the consequences of the spreading virus has also been developed. More than 300 regulations have been adopted. These measures have proven effective for people, healthcare, business and the economy.”

At the initiative of the Russian President, financial assistance was provided to families with children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Medical and social workers are receiving bonuses and special payment benefits. Businesses received support, which made it possible to save millions of jobs, Valentina Matvienko said.

The speaker noted the contribution of the Greek chairmanship at the CoE’s Committee of Ministers in 2020, which made the coronavirus pandemic its central priority. “Importantly, many CoE documents now recognise the need to reinforce the social dimension of its activities.”

Russia fully shares this approach, the Federation Council Speaker said. “In this new reality, the need for international and practical cooperation and an exchange of experience, primarily, in the healthcare, is felt particularly strongly. I believe parliamentary diplomacy is called on to play a part in this overdue turn to socioeconomic rights, without which social cohesion cannot be achieved.”

Valentina Matvienko supported the corresponding efforts within the framework of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. “We consider this area a priority for parliamentary contacts among all European institutions. We are open and willing to share our experience.”

According to Ms Matvienko, Russia is strongly involved in humanitarian missions. Russian doctors have helped fight the pandemic in the CIS, Europe and Asia. Major deliveries of personal protective equipment, test systems, medicines and equipment have been made to a number of countries. “We are supportive of the One Health concept based on international solidarity principles. We believe it is extremely important for everyone to unite under the auspices of the WHO and to focus on creating a solid scientific base for preventing and treating diseases and developing vaccines.”

Russia is a leading biotechnological power, Valentina Matvienko said. “Each one of the five Russian vaccines to prevent COVID-19 is reliable and effective. Sputnik V has been registered in 70 countries with a combined population of over 4 billion people. The demand for the Russian vaccine around the world is huge.”

In closing, the Federation Council Speaker said that only collective efforts will make it possible for all countries around the world to leave behind coronavirus pandemic-related trials faster and with fewer losses, while remaining committed to democratic principles and reliably ensuring human rights.

Several other legislative leaders gave speeches during the opening ceremony and the thematic meeting of the conference, including Speaker of the Parliament of the Hellenic Republic Konstantinos Tasoulas, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Hendrik Dams, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejcinovic-Buric, and President of the National Council of the Austrian Republic Wolfgang Sobotka. A discussion ensued with the participation of the chairs of parliament.

The event was attended by members of the Russian parliamentary delegation, including Deputy Federation Council Speaker Konstantin Kosachev, Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin, Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Social Policy Inna Svyatenko and First Deputy Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Sergei Kislyak.

Taking questions from the media, Valentina Matvienko noted that today, with another wave of the coronavirus underway, it is now imperative to overcome national selfishness and competition in the production of vaccines, which is often due to pressure created by the pharmaceutical companies’ commercial interests. “It is imperative to accelerate mutual recognition of the vaccines and vaccination certificates and to create proper conditions for wider access of all people in all countries to vaccination. There is no other way to stop the pandemic.“

“Our first message is to strengthen international cooperation in this sphere. As a pan-European organisation, the Council of Europe must come up with corresponding recommendations,” the Federation Council Speaker said. The second message is to exchange parliamentary experience, strengthen the role of parliaments, and to develop a clearer parliamentarian position with regard to overcoming existing pandemic-related challenges. “Of course, Russia has things it can share with regard to the measures it has taken, including support for the economy and for individuals and the timely decisions we took early on during the pandemic.”

Russia's constructive and non-confrontational proposals received a positive response from many conference participants, the Federation Council Speaker said.