G7 pandemic pledges not nearly enough: global health leaders

The G7’s vow to share a billion Covid vaccine doses with poorer nations is too little too late, according to the WHO and global health leaders, as experts warned Monday more than 11 billion shots are needed.

Faced with outrage over disparities in access to jabs, the Group of Seven industrialised powers pledged during a weekend summit in Britain to increase dose donations to over one billion.

“We welcome the generous announcements about donations of vaccines and thank leaders… but we need more, and we need them faster,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement Sunday.

While people in many wealthy nations are enjoying a return to a sense of normalcy thanks to high vaccination rates, the shots remain scarce in less well-off parts of the world.

In terms of doses administered, the imbalance between the G7 and low-income countries, as defined by the World Bank, is 73 to one.

Many of the donated doses will be filtered through Covax, a global body charged with ensuring equitable vaccine distribution.

Run by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, it has to date shipped 85 million vaccine doses to 131 countries — far fewer than anticipated.

Carl Bildt, the WHO’s special envoy for the ACT Accelerator programme to speed up production and access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, said one billion doses was far from enough.

– 11 bn doses needed –

“To truly end the pandemic, our goal must be to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the world’s population by the time G7 meet again in Germany next year,” the former Swedish prime minister said on Twitter.

“This can be done with the support of the G7 and G20, together. To do that, we need 11 billion doses.” 

As well as dose sharing the G7 anti-pandemic battle plan includes a series of engagements to avert future pandemics — slashing  time taken to develop and licence vaccines,  to under 100 days, reinforcing global surveillance and strengthening the WHO.

Observers voiced scepticism at the willingness to follow through on the last point especially.

“I will believe (that) point when the contributions to WHO are increased,” tweeted Ilona Kickbusch, founding director and chair of the Global Health Centre in Geneva.

Others stressed the need to quickly resolve the issue of Covid vaccine patent protections, to boost production. 

Full-fledged negotiations towards a possible suspension of intellectual property protections for Covid vaccines, as well as other medical tools needed to battle the pandemic, have just begun at the World Trade Organization after months of contentious debate.

G7 leaders “say they want to vaccinate the world by the end of next year, but their actions show they care more about protecting the monopolies and patents of pharmaceutical giants,” lamented Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of inequity policy.

Human Rights Watch agreed.

“Focusing on vaccines and making charitable donations are not enough,” Aruna Kashyap, HRW senior counsel for business and human rights, told AFP.

“The G7’s failure to unequivocally support a temporary waiver of global intellectual property rules is deadly status quo.”

WHO and partners also highlighted the dire need for funds to overcome the pandemic.

More than $16 billion (13.2 billion euros) is still needed to fully finance the ACT Accelerator this year alone.

“There is still a significant funding gap that must be closed,” Bildt said. “The time to act is now.”

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