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Vaccine Access Advocates Cautiously Optimistic As G20 Summit Ends With Pledge to 'Spare No Effort' to Ensure Widespread Distribution

"This is not a 'do-good' exercise. It is the only way to stop the pandemic dead in its tracks. Solidarity is indeed survival."

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (top L), U.S. President Donald Trump (top R), South Korean President Moon Jae-in (down L), and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (down C) are seen on a screen before the start of a virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia and held over video conference amid the Covid-19 pandemic, in Brussels, on November 21, 2020. (Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (top L), U.S. President Donald Trump (top R), South Korean President Moon Jae-in (down L), and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (down C) are seen on a screen before the start of a virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia and held over video conference amid the Covid-19 pandemic, in Brussels, on November 21, 2020. (Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

World leaders expressed cautious optimism about widespread coronavirus vaccine access as the virtual G20 summit wrapped up with a final statement from the world's 20 largest economies, expressing that the countries would make sure vaccines are distributed equitably across the globe when they are available.

The statement did not commit any specific amount of funding to the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its vaccine facility, COVAX, which aims to distribute vaccine doses to developing countries. 

"The recent breakthroughs on Covid-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope. But that ray of hope needs to reach everyone. That means ensuring that vaccines are treated as a global public good, a people’s vaccine accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere."
—António Guterres, U.N. secretary-general 

"We have mobilized resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines," the G20 nations said Sunday. "We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation."

The European Union and United Nations say $4.5 billion is still needed from G20 nations to fill a funding shortfall. Countries have invested $10 billion in ACT-Accelerator and COVAX so far. Along with Russia and a handful of smaller countries, the U.S. has so far not joined the COVAX effort, and according to Politico Europe, U.S. President Donald Trump's brief appearance at the G20 summit—before he left to play golf during a meeting on pandemic readiness—included comments signaling that he wants Americans to receive the Covid-19 vaccine before people in other countries.   

Ahead of the summit, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged leaders of the countries to view widespread distribution as a matter of public health for the entire world as well as a humanitarian concern. 

"The recent breakthroughs on Covid-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope. But that ray of hope needs to reach everyone. That means ensuring that vaccines are treated as a global public good, a people's vaccine accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere," Guterres said. "This is not a 'do-good' exercise. It is the only way to stop the pandemic dead in its tracks. Solidarity is indeed survival."

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has called for the suspension of the World Trade Organization's intellectual property rules regarding coronavirus vaccines to allow for the production of generic versions of vaccines, expressed hope that his fellow G20 members would fill the funding gap. 

"We are pleased that there appears to be consensus in the G20 that access to an effective Covid-19 vaccine should be universal, fair and equitable," said Ramaphosa. "A commitment by G20 leaders to invest substantially in the ACT-Accelerator's immediate funding gap of $4.5 billion will immediately save lives, lay the groundwork for mass provision of Covid-19 tools around the world, and provide a way out of this global economic and human crisis. We look to the G20, international partners and the international financial institutions to work with African countries to rebuild their economies."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered a measured response to the G20's final communique, expressing concern that the countries did not offer a specific plan to fund vaccine distribution. 

"We will now speak with GAVI [Global Vaccine Alliance Group] about when these negotiations will begin because I am somewhat worried that nothing has been done on that yet," Merkel said in Berlin of agreements for vaccine access in developing countries.  

The statement released at the end of the summit also did not include a commitment to canceling poor countries' debt repayments through 2021, as Guterres has urged the G20 to do. 

As the summit ended, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Biyanyima called on world leaders to "give developing countries the fiscal space to invest in health, education, and social protection" during the pandemic.

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