G7 leaders urged to tackle inequalities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and share supply with developing countries

When G7 leaders meet in Cornwall, England this weekend, they will face increasing pressure to address an issue that in many ways has come to define the essence of global solidarity – sharing of vaccines.

Few of the issues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have better illustrated the divide between rich and poor countries than access to vaccines. The G7 countries – Canada, Britain, the United States, France, Italy, Germany and Japan – have each ordered hundreds of millions of doses and are set to vaccinate their adult populations. But developing countries are far behind and in Africa alone, only 2 percent of people have had only one injection.

The World Health Organization has estimated that 75% of the global COVID-19 vaccine supply has been sent to just 10 countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries. The COVAX program, put in place by the WHO and other organizations last year, hoped to get enough doses by 2021 to immunize 20% of people in the 92 poorest countries. But COVAX is far from reaching its target, and by the end of June it will be 190 million doses behind.

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WHO and dozens of aid agencies have called on G7 leaders to respond by pledging that each country will share 20% of its excess supply, or around 150 million doses in total, between June and August. .

“People don’t like to talk about it, but it’s a moral issue,” said Graca Machel, human rights activist and former Minister of Education in Mozambique. “Why the hell do you think there are lives you can let die?” It’s life or death for all of us. At a recent panel discussion hosted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a London-based nonprofit, Ms. Machel said the emergence of variants of the virus in many countries demonstrates the need for an approach. world immunization. “What we are saying is that we are a human family,” she said.

Five of the G7 member states have pledged to share at least some vaccines, including the United States, which has pledged to donate 80 million doses to COVAX and other countries by the end of June. Media reported on Wednesday that President Joe Biden is due to go further this week by announcing plans to purchase an additional 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next two years to donate to COVAX, with 200 million to come this year.

Other countries have also made pledges, including Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and Sweden.

So far, Canada and Britain are the only members of the G7 not to make a firm commitment to share the vaccine. Both governments have said they will donate supplies at some point, but not now.

The Canadian government said it was waiting to confirm an excess of doses before announcing its intention to donate the injections. Canada purchased 252.9 million doses of vaccine, enough to inoculate the entire population more than three times. According to The Globe and Mail’s vaccine tracker, the government is on track to have enough supplies to deliver two doses to all eligible Canadians by August.

Britain has ordered 400 million doses of the vaccine and so far 77% of all adults have received one injection while 54% have had two. Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country was unable to share its supply. “At the moment we don’t have excess doses, because as soon as the doses are available for the UK we inject them into UK guns,” Mr Hancock said after a meeting of health ministers in the UK. G7 in Oxford, England.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the Cornwall summit, has said he wants leaders to engage in a global vaccination effort. “Vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the greatest achievement in the history of medicine,” Mr Johnson said this week. However, he did not provide any details on how this would be accomplished.

Certainly, Canada and the United Kingdom have made substantial funding pledges to COVAX to help it purchase vaccines. Canada pledged $ 440 million while the UK offered £ 548 million, or $ 937 million. But officials at the WHO and other groups say COVAX now needs doses.

This is largely because the Indian government has restricted vaccine exports to deal with an increase in COVID-19 cases. The ban left COVAX in trouble as more than a third of its supply was believed to come from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker.

“We need 250 million more doses by September, and we need 100 million doses just in June and July,” WHO Executive Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week. “Six months after the administration of the first vaccines, high-income countries have administered almost 44% of the global doses. Low-income countries administered only 0.4 percent.

Even with the 500 million extra doses promised by the United States and pledges made by other countries, the total will be well below the 11 billion doses that the WHO and others believe are needed to immunize the whole world. this year, not to mention the billions more for annual booster shots.

Robert Yates, Britain’s health political economist specializing in universal health coverage, said G7 leaders must commit to doing more than just giving vaccines. They must also increase spending on vaccine and drug development, and they must make it easier for developing countries to obtain the technology and know-how to manufacture vaccines.

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“What the pandemic has revealed is underinvestment in the health sector,” Dr Yates said during a recent discussion at Chatham House in London. “We haven’t focused enough on things like pandemic preparedness and antimicrobial resistance. These aren’t the flashy big hospitals that we all think of in terms of health systems. But these are the problems that we must solve. “

Dr Yates said the G7 has the money, the power and the resources to show real leadership this week and help end the pandemic. “There is really the potential for the leaders of the G7 to do something dramatic,” he added. “But are they really going to act? “

With a report by Marieke Walsh in Ottawa

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