The G7 Adds 4,000 Million To The Equitable Distribution Of Vaccines Amid Criticism Of The Stockpiling Of Rich Countries

The G7 countries have announced this Friday, after a virtual meeting, that they will increase by almost 4,000 million dollars (3,300 million euros) their funds to the COVAX mechanism, which tries to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines against COVID-19.

In a statement Together, after weeks of criticism for uneven dose distribution, the world’s economic powers show their “support” for equitable and affordable access and refer to widespread immunization as a “global public good.” As indicated, with the latest commitments, the collective support of the G7 – the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU – amounts to 7.5 billion dollars (6,193 million euros).

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The World Health Organization (WHO), which has called in recent days for an increase in financial contributions to COVAX, has welcomed the announcement. “There is a growing movement for vaccine equity and I am pleased that world leaders are stepping up by making new commitments to effectively end this pandemic by sharing doses and increasing funding for COVAX,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, WHO Director General.

However, he added that it is also necessary to increase production. “Things cannot continue as usual and there is an urgent need for countries to share doses and technology, scale up manufacturing and ensure there is a sustainable supply of vaccines so that everyone, everywhere can receive a vaccine.”

In their statement, the G7 countries commit to “accelerate the development and deployment of vaccines globally” and to work with the pharmaceutical industry “to increase manufacturing capacity, including through voluntary licensing.”

The announcement of new G7 funds to COVAX includes the new pledges of € 980 million from Germany and € 500 million from the European Union (one of the main donors to date of the mechanism), as well as an allocation of 2,000 million dollars of financing for 2021 by the Government of Joe Biden, which has been released this Friday in the group, to which will be added another 2,000 million additional dollars planned for 2021-2022. Japan has also promised $ 70 million.

At the meeting, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that the EU will allocate an additional 500 million euros to the COVAX financing mechanism to buy vaccines for the poorest countries. It includes € 300 million in Commission grants and € 200 million in loan guarantees through the European Investment Bank (EIB). This is in addition to the € 100 million already committed by the European Commission and the € 400 million in guarantees from the EIB in December 2020.

Gavi, one of the promoters of the mechanism, has assured that with these new contributions they will allow it to obtain more doses and “further diversify its portfolio of vaccines, advancing in its objective of distributing at least 1,300 million doses of vaccines” in the economies of the most the world’s poor in the coming months.

“We thank the G7 countries, and particularly Germany and the United States, as well as the EU, for this strong leadership in the areas of global health and global health security,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, it’s a statement. However, more funds are needed. If global solidarity is “maintained,” the organization says, an additional 500 million doses could be within reach in 2021, bringing the total to 1.8 billion.

COVAX is one of the pillars of the WHO ACT Accelerator, which will also receive more funding from the G7 countries, but continues to have a funding gap of $ 22.9 billion. ACT is the ongoing global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to testing and treatment as well as COVID-19 vaccines.

Ahead of the meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the group’s acting chairman, has announced that the UK will share most of the “future vaccine surpluses” from its supply with the COVAX procurement pool “to support developing countries”. The United Kingdom, with 66.7 million inhabitants, has ordered more than 400 million doses of various vaccines.

In parallel, French President Emmanuel Macron has called for higher-income countries to reserve a percentage of their doses for lower-income economies. Specifically, Macron he said in an interview with him Financial times that the US and Europe should urgently allocate up to 5% of their current vaccine supplies to developing countries where campaigns have not started.

“Dose sharing by countries in a position to do so can potentially add significant volumes of vaccines to the global effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. In addition to France and Norway as part of Team Europe, Canada has made a similar promise, “says Gavi.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said after the meeting that Germany and other wealthy countries may need to give developing countries some of their own vaccines in addition to money, as just vaccinating everyone will end the pandemic of coronavirus, according to The Guardian. Merkel has explained that during the meeting the specific percentages of its vaccine stocks that should be administered to the poorest countries have not been discussed.

According to him Financial times, there are still divisions on the speed at which the West should share its doses. According to this newspaper, the US has rejected Macron’s call to share doses before having completed its own national campaign.

The WHO has asked countries not to share their doses unilaterally, but to donate them through COVAX to ensure equality. He has also demanded that it be in parallel to their national vaccine deployments and that they share them once they have finished vaccinating health workers and people vulnerable to the virus.

This week, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that progress in vaccination worldwide “has been tremendously uneven and unfair.” Only 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccines against COVID-19. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose yet, he recalled. In most low- and middle-income countries, vaccination has not yet started.

Rich countries have racked up a barrage of criticism in recent months for hogging most of the vaccine supply, sometimes securing more doses than necessary. The ONE global campaign against extreme poverty has calculated this Thursday that the five countries that have bought the most vaccines to date (plus the EU) will have more than 1 billion doses left over which, they claim, they could share with others. Following the meeting, activists said that the new G7 commitments are a good step in the right direction, “but we must also accelerate the speed at which we bring vaccines to every corner of the planet, because if the virus moves faster than us, he’s winning. “

The initial objective of COVAX was to be the mechanism through which all countries, whether rich or poor, could acquire the vaccine. Many high-income countries joined but requesting very small amounts, and mostly only making donations. At the same time, a large number of bilateral agreements have been sealed, those signed directly with the companies (mainly by rich nations), which are considered to have ended up undermining COVAX’s own capacity.

Only last year 44 bilateral agreements of this type were signed and rich countries, which represent 14% of the population, reserved most of the doses. The WHO has publicly criticized this trend, assuring that it increases prices and creates the scenario that COVAX sought to avoid, with “hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response and continuous social and economic disruption.” The agency has asked companies that make vaccines to prioritize supplying COVAX over new bilateral agreements.

“It seems that COVAX is increasingly becoming an aid fund for the purchase and distribution of COVID vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, and the idea of ​​it being the mechanism for the distribution of vaccines for all is lagging behind. the countries that were announced at the beginning. It will be a less innovative mechanism but it will play an important role anyway, and even more so when it is necessary to put order with the issue of the redistribution of surplus vaccines “, Belén tells elDiario.es Tarrafeta, pharmacist and expert in access to medicines.

“COVAX’s initial vision of being the default mechanism for purchasing and distribution did not have enough political support from high-income countries either when it was established or now. Perhaps if there had been a clearer position from the beginning there would not have been enough wasted so much time and effort, “says the expert.

While the vaccines are already being distributed in more than 70 countries around the world, COVAX has not yet started delivering doses. His plan is for the bulk of the first round of deliveries to take place in March, with some shipments to those who have already met certain requirements, which will take place at the end of February, as he announced this week after the WHO emergency authorization. of two versions of the AstraZeneca / Oxford serum, making them available for worldwide distribution through the program.

For many of the low- and middle-income countries that will be given mechanism-funded vaccines with development assistance, COVAX will be the first doses they will receive. According to the latest analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit, for most middle-income countries, the vaccination schedule will last until the end of 2022. In the poorest economies, widespread vaccination coverage will not be achieved before 2023, if it is that is achieved.

“Although some vaccination campaigns are beginning in low-income countries, and by April many others will begin through COVAX, the volumes will be very low. Until June, these countries will receive doses that will barely arrive to cover 3% of the population, which is about 300 million doses for 145 countries. It is very little “, says Tarrafeta.

In recent weeks, WHO has repeatedly called for global production capacity to be expanded, something many experts agree on and that would also make poor countries less dependent on donations from the rich, according to the agency . It also asks pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge with the COVID-19 Technology Access Fund (C-TAP) to “dramatically increase the world’s supply” of vaccines for the next few years. However, since its inception in May last year, no major vaccine candidate manufacturer has made a commitment to C-TAP, which allows for the voluntary licensing of technologies in a non-exclusive way.

In parallel, several countries led by India and South Africa have proposed temporarily suspending the World Trade Organization rules on intellectual property rights during the pandemic, arguing that this could facilitate the expansion of production. However, for now, rich countries continue to close ranks in opposing the waiver proposal. Many impoverished countries and international civil society organizations such as MSF and national organizations such as Salud por Derecho advocate this measure as a solution to the lack of access.

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