Against a backdrop of rich nations essentially being criticised for being selfish and indulging in vaccine nationalism, the G7 nations have come forth with a pledge to supply one billion doses of COVID vaccines to poorer nations by the end of next year.
This pledge was made as part of the most recent session of the summit held at Cornwall in the UK, where British PM Johnson called on leaders to help vaccinate the world before the end of 2022.
Here is what is currently known about the details of the individual pledges made by the G7 countries:
First, the US recently announced that it would be buying and donating 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to more than 90 countries by the first half of 2022. The first 200 million of these doses will be sent out before the end of 2021.
Second, the United Kingdom itself has pledged at least 100 million surplus vaccine doses being sent out within the next year with five million of those doses planned for donation within the next few weeks.
Third, the European Union has promised to collectively donate at least 100 million doses to low and middle-income countries by the end of 2022. Of these, both Germany and France have committed to donating 30 million each with Italy pledging to donate 15 million doses.
Fourth, Japan has pledged to donate 30 million doses of vaccines produced in Japan through the COVAX initiative with no specific word on the exact timeline. Japan recently donated 1.24 million doses of its AstraZeneca stock to Taiwan for free.
Fifth, while Canada is in talks to donate its surplus vaccines through COVAX, it has not made any specific commitments to donating.
Quite predictably, not everyone is rushing to praise the G7 nations for making a pledge this late into the global vaccination campaign, which is already seeing staggering levels of inequity.
Oxfam’s health policy manager Anna Marriott stated in no uncertain terms that if one billion doses were all that the rich G7 nations could manage to muster up, then the summit was a failure on that account.
She added that the world would need around 11 billion doses to bring this pandemic to an end. In that regard, these donations are one drop in a really large bucket.
Surplus donations and indeed even the donations of the sort where richer countries buy vaccines and then given them away are a stop-gap measure to buy time.
Time for what? For drastic solutions to produce a truly incredible amount of vaccine shots in a short span of time. The risks for a vaccine campaign that drags along are immense.
By the current pace of vaccination, many of the poorer nations won’t even get around to making any reasonable progress with vaccinating their population until 2024.
The more time taken, the more the likelihood that the current generation of vaccines will not work as effectively against any future variants of COVID-19 that pop up.
That is why it is vital to pursue big-ticket responses like giving the COVAX initiative the funding it needs to procure vaccines at a massive scale and to pursue intellectual property rights relaxations to drastically increase the production of such vaccines.
More importantly, as Oxfam’s Anna Marriot pointed out, “The lives of millions of people in developing countries should never be dependent on the goodwill of rich nations and profit-hungry pharmaceutical corporations.”
And it shouldn’t stop at just securing the funding and the supplies. As richer nations found out during their own vaccination campaigns, more than half the battle is getting the vaccines into the arms of people.
There is thus a need to set up a comprehensive system of providing vaccination logistical support worldwide to cater to everything from transport and storage solutions for the vaccines to helping set up the actual vaccine centres and drives.
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