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Vaccine equity campaigners posing as G7 leaders tussle over a giant mock syringe

Vaccine equity campaigners posing as the leaders of G7 nations tussle over a giant mock syringe on June 11, 2021 near Falmouth, Cornwall, United Kingdom. (Photo: Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

'Little More Than a PR Gimmick': Critics Say G7 Vaccine Donation Pledges Won't Cut It

Public health campaigners estimate that promised donations from rich countries would be enough to cover just 11% of the world's unvaccinated population.

Jake Johnson

A pledge by seven of the world's wealthiest nations to donate a total of one billion coronavirus vaccine doses to developing countries would be enough to inoculate just 11% of the world's unvaccinated population, leading public health campaigners to slam the initiative as badly inadequate and "little more than a PR gimmick."

"If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate one billion vaccine doses, then this summit will have been a failure."
—Anna Marriott, Oxfam

At the start of the three-day G7 summit in Cornwall, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday that his country will donate roughly 100 million of its surplus coronavirus vaccine doses to poor nations over the next year, a vow that came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled his plan to purchase 500 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine for developing countries.

Other G7 nations are expected to make donation pledges as the summit progresses, bringing the combined number of promised doses to one billion.

Global Justice Now, a U.K.-based advocacy group, said in a statement Friday that Johnson's proposal is tantamount to offering poor nations "crumbs from the table."

"It's shameful," said Nick Dearden, the group's director. "The U.K. has bought 500 million vaccine doses, well beyond what we need. And yet today we're only offering to give 100 million doses to the rest of the worldand only by the middle of next year."

An estimated 6.8 billion people across the globe are unvaccinated, Global Justice Now noted in a press release, meaning that the billion pledged doses would provide one shot to just 15% of the unvaccinated population and two doses to just 7.3%.

Dearden argued that instead of pushing insufficient donation schemes, Johnson and other G7 leaders should join Biden in supporting a temporary waiver for coronavirus vaccine patents, a proposal that would lift intellectual property barriers that are preventing manufacturers around the world from producing generic vaccines. The U.S. and France are thus far the only G7 nations that have endorsed the patent waiver.

"Intellectual property rules are restricting vaccine production to the supply chains of a handful of companies," said Dearden. "This weekend, Boris Johnson and [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel can finally step up to the plate, follow Biden's lead, and clear away these barriers, so we can vaccinate the whole world."

Criticism of the G7's vaccine promises comes as Covid-19 continues to ravage poor nations in Africa, South America, and Asia, where developing countries have struggled to get their vaccination campaigns off the ground. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, global coronavirus deaths this year have already surpassed the staggering death toll from the virus in all of 2020.

"The test for the president's plan, and plans issued by G7 leaders, is not how it compares to prior commitments or steps taken by other nations, but rather, how quickly that plan will end the pandemic."
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen

"The current burden of Covid-19 marks a reversal for rich and poor nations," the Journal noted. "At the turn of the year, Europe and North America accounted for 73% of daily cases and 72% of daily deaths as the virus roared back during fall and winter. Now, South America, Asia, and Africa account for more than 80% of daily cases and three-quarters of daily deaths."

Last week, the People's Vaccine Alliance estimated that more than a million people have died of Covid-19 since the last G7 meeting in February, when the wealthy nations pledged collective action to boost the global supply of coronavirus vaccines to assist struggling poor countries.

"If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate one billion vaccine doses, then this summit will have been a failure," Anna Marriott, Oxfam International's health policy manager, told Reuters on Friday.

In a statement responding to Biden's vow to send 500 million doses to around 100 countries over the next 12 months, Public Citizen's Peter Maybarduk said that "the world needs urgent new manufacturing to produce billions more doses within a year, not just commitments to buy the planned inadequate supply."

"We have yet to see a plan from the U.S. government or the G7 of the needed ambition or urgency to make billions more doses and end the pandemic," Maybarduk added.

On Thursday, Public Citizen outlined several steps Biden should take to bolster the artificially limited global vaccine supply and redress massive inequities in distribution:

  • An official launch and investment in a public global vaccine manufacturing program of scale and urgency to end the pandemic, supported by whole-of-government efforts to source and produce materials and train personnel, with regional manufacturing hubs around the world. A $25 billion commitment can produce eight billion additional doses of mRNA vaccine in one year.
  • A pledge to immediately begin sharing the knowledge, technology, and intellectual property to make safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. Biden has authority under existing law, including through the Defense Production Act, to share vaccine recipes with the world. The president should support technology sharing initiatives such as the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and obtain commitments from G7 countries to swiftly adopt an effective temporary TRIPS waiver with respect to vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and other medical products to prevent, contain or treat Covid-19, as well as the inputs and equipment to make such medical products.
  • A commitment to immediately distribute vaccine supply to COVAX and developing countries and encourage countries that have purchased more than their fair share to do the same. Millions of people at risk today cannot afford to wait; doses must be delivered to developing countries today.

"The test for the president's plan, and plans issued by G7 leaders, is not how it compares to prior commitments or steps taken by other nations, but rather, how quickly that plan will end the pandemic, and whether it mobilizes all available resources to do so," said Maybarduk. "Ambitious political leadership can make real what once seemed impossible. The world expects urgent, coordinated action from global leaders to end the pandemic."

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