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G7 scrambles to speed up supply of vaccines to poorer countries

The G7 group of wealthy nations are scrambling to agree a package to speed up the supply of vaccines to poor and middle-income countries by making commitments to export surplus vaccines and by ramping up production.

At a meeting in London, the seven are also likely to agree in principle to step up the financing of the international Covax programme to distribute vaccines. The west is on course for more than 50% of adults to be vaccinated by the summer, compared with one in 100 in sub-Saharan Africa.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the Financial Times: “Now that our population has full access to vaccines, we are in a place where, with some of the vaccines that we’ve contracted for, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which there are about 60m [doses], we’ll be able to move out and make those available.

“We’re putting in place a process for the vaccines we contracted for that can be made available, but also critically looking at ways that we can ramp up production with other countries around the world so that there is a constant and growing supply.”

The consensus inside the Biden administration has shifted towards a bold global initiative rather than simply storing up surplus vaccines to reassure domestic electorates. But UK officials stressed that the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting was not a pledging event.

There are also some signs of a shift in position in the US on patent waivers in the face of pharmaceutical companies reporting windfall profits from the pandemic. On Tuesday Pfizer said it expected $26bn (£19bn) of revenue from its Covid vaccine this year.

The US is predicted to be on course for a stockpile of 300m surplus vaccine doses by the summer, while the UK government has secured orders for more than 517m doses across the eight most promising vaccines.

In a letter sent on Tuesday night to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, the former prime minister and a UN envoy Gordon Brown pointed out that low-income countries accounted for less than 1% of the doses administered to date.

“The vaccine gap between the richer and poor parts of the world is growing by the day. Closing that gap is not just a moral imperative but an urgent medical necessity for combating Covid 19 and preventing it mutating and threatening every country, rich or poor,” Brown said.

He called for G7 to bring forward a plan by the time of the leaders’ summit in June. “We cannot tackle this through whip-rounds or treating this like a charity fundraiser,” he said.

Raab said the G7 summit represented a good opportunity for leaders to come up with positive answers to these questions, including on surplus vaccines.

Brown pointed out that the Covax facility was $19bn underfunded this year and as much $45bn would be needed next year.

World leaders set up the Covax accelerator specifically to ensure poor and middle-income countries secure vaccines, but Blinken has admitted the scheme faces supply difficulties. The Serum Institute of India has diverted as many as 20m of its AstraZeneca vaccines for use in India.

Diplomats concerned by the scenes in India and the high-profile supply of vaccines by China to Africa seem belatedly to be waking up to the damaging impression that could be left for western democracies if they are seen to be hoarding vaccines while the poor die. Schemes to be better prepared for future pandemics, while important, do not quite match the immediate politics.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, accused Russia and China of hypocritical vaccine diplomacy, but admitted the west “had to make better offers including a worldwide vaccination rollout for everyone”. The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the G7 leaders’ meeting in the summer was probably the most significant in the G7’s history.

The People’s Vaccine campaign highlighted polling within the G7 mainly conducted by YouGov showing near 70% support for a waiver in intellectual property rights, a proposal…

Read More: G7 scrambles to speed up supply of vaccines to poorer countries

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