New York City's (legally questionable) demand that all representatives and diplomats who attend next week's UN General Assembly meeting show proof of vaccination is threatening to derail the annual summit of world leaders as Russia and China protest the fact that their locally developed vaccines won't be accepted.
NYC's request that diplomats and their entourage show proof of vaccination before being admitted somehow received the backing of General Assembly President Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid. In a statement released on Wednesday, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio and International Affairs Commissioner Penny Abeywardena thanked UN diplomats ahead of time for "working with us", calling them “true New Yorkers".
Unfortunately, not all diplomats are equally enthusiastic. In a letter to colleagues released on Wednesday, Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya denounced these new requirements as "clearly discriminatory" and accused NYC and Shahid of violating the UN charter, which states that the UN is international territory.
In the face of Russia's complaints, Mayor de Blasio doubled down: "If the Russian ambassador is against it, I'm for it." So much for the spirit of international diplomacy.
Keep in mind, the biggest issue here isn't that diplomats aren't vaccinated. It's that they're vaccinated with jabs that haven't been approved in the US.
Sputnik V, a vaccine backed by Moscow and widely administered in Russia, does not have approval in the United States and is not on the World Health Organization’s emergency use listing either.
To try and make everybody happy, NY officials have promised to dole out free doses of the single-dose J&J jab by the UN Headquarters in Midtown. But it's not approved in all member states, either (though it has been approved by the WHO, even as questions about dangerous side effects linger).
To Mayor de Blasio, this amounts to a sufficient olive branch. "If their vaccine isn't good enough, then they should go and use one of the other vaccines."
With so many parties bristling at NYC's attempt to exert sovereignty over a piece of supranational territory, it looks like NYC's demands likely won't be met. A statement from a UN spokesman said the UN has traditionally relied on an "honor system" and that they were working with "the sitting President of the A" to continue the honor system. Another spokesman said the letter from NYC authorities doesn't specify any single vaccine for use, despite de Blasio's comments about offering the JNJ jab.
There's also the question of discrimination: only 2% of the nearly 6 billion jabs produced have reached Africa.
With hundreds of world leaders preparing to fly into New York City next week, there's a chance for ructions that could disrupt, or maybe even delay, the start of the assembly.