As the coronavirus pandemic continues to split the world into vaccinated and unvaccinated, the leaders of the world’s 20 richest countries will meet later this week to discuss how to bridge this deep divide.
Pandemic concerns are likely to cloud the first personal meeting of the G-20 leaders since 2019, and vaccine equity is a major concern. The summit kicks off on Saturday in Rome.
US President Joe Biden claims that the United States, the richest country in the world, is also the “world’s vaccine arsenal.” The sheer number of promised vaccine dose donations from the United States – 1.1 billion of them – outnumber other countries.
However, according to health advocates, this is not enough. Some of the promised vaccines have been delivered, and a new study by research firm Airfinity has shown that G-20 countries received 15 times more COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita than sub-Saharan Africa.
World leaders have said they are ready to do more together. In September, G-20 ministers unanimously signed the Pact of Rome, which reaffirmed the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 40% of the world’s population by 2021.
Critics immediately point out that this document contains no specific commitments. Activists and aid groups are calling on G20 countries to make real promises, speed up delivery schedules and be more generous – not only with the actual vaccine vials, but also with the technology behind them and the tools needed to get the vaccine. them into weapons.
Advocates argue that this is not just a problem for the poor, it hurts everyone.
“Inequalities in vaccines not only hold back the poorest countries, they hold back the world,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “When leaders meet to prioritize the next phase of the COVID-19 response, it is vital that they remember that in the race for COVID vaccines, we are either winning together or losing together.”
“Arsenal of vaccines”
The White House says it already donates more vaccines than any other country, and US officials have dismissed criticism of the government’s decision to allow Americans to be vaccinated when so many people around the world have yet to receive their first vaccines.
“We still believe we can do both, and this is the wrong choice,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last month. “We also continue to believe that, in all honesty, the rest of the world needs to step up its efforts and do more.”
Natalie Earnoult, head of the Médecins Sans Frontières campaign, said the United States can do much more than just pledge donations.
“The US is already doing a lot,” she told Voice of America via Skype. “But they could do even more, because their capabilities are quite important and huge – in particular, not only for sharing doses, but also for interacting with pharmaceutical companies to share technology with a number of manufacturing companies that are located in different places in different countries. regions, and who could produce these vaccines to make sure they will also be able to deliver them to the countries of those regional bodies. And I think, you know, very little actually happened in that regard. ”
A new report from the ONE Campaign poverty alleviation group estimates that of the more than 6.5 billion vaccine doses pledged by G-20 countries, about 44% have been delivered. Tom Hart, the organization’s acting CEO, said that was not enough. At this rate, he said, it will take more than a decade for low-income countries to reach their goal of vaccinating 70% of the population.
“The US is far above the world leader in global vaccination efforts and has recently taken steps to ensure that the African Union is at the forefront of purchasing doses directly from manufacturers,” he said. “These are important steps that will save lives and help bring an end to the pandemic faster. But the reality is that rich countries as a whole are failing to meet the challenge. ”
HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER
So what can the world’s most powerful people do?
First, Hart said, they can speed up delivery by nudging dying supply chains into action.
“We need to turn 18 months of slow progress into bold action and commitment,” he said. “This means urgently getting a dose of weapons in low-income countries and freeing up all available financial resources for a sustainable economic recovery.”
They can also clear out their reserves, Earnoult said.
“In high-income countries, the number of doses has been exceeded, about 800 million,” she said. “And what we would like to see is that they clearly set a timetable for delivering these COVAX doses to countries in a transparent manner, with a very clear timetable for when these doses will be released to the country so that recipient countries can organize themselves to receive these doses as well. ”
Finally, both said the United States should use its power to pressure corporations to loosen control over the prescription for these vaccines. This is that the White House has used its influence to try and persuade US drug maker Moderna, Psaki said last week.
“We absolutely want this to happen, but I also understand that the US government has no way of getting Moderna to take action,” she said.
The meeting of heads of state begins on Saturday.