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G7 called on to help close inoculation gap

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-13 09:25

A biomedical engineer confirms the consignment of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), before distribution at the Kitengela cold rooms stores in Kitengela, outside Nairobi, Kenya on March 4, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

A former prime minister of the United Kingdom has called on leaders of the G7 nations to champion a $30-billion global push to ensure a fairer global distribution of novel coronavirus vaccines.

Gordon Brown said the world has entered a "vaccine apartheid", because a small group of affluent nations control the lion's share of treatments, while a significant majority of the developing world remains unprotected against the virus.

His comments came days after the World Health Organization condemned a "shocking imbalance" in the global distribution of vaccines.

The former prime minister estimated that poorer nations will require tens of billions of dollars of financial support each year in order to buy enough vaccines.

"The bigger barrier ahead will not be the shortage of vaccines, however, but the shortage of money to pay for them," Brown wrote in The Guardian. "We need to spend now to save lives, and we need to spend tomorrow to carry on vaccinating each year until the disease no longer claims lives. And this will require at least $30 billion year, a bill no one so far seems willing to fully underwrite."

According to the Global Health Innovation Center, high-income countries representing just 18 percent of the world's population currently control a confirmed 4.6 billion doses of vaccines. In comparison, upper middle-income countries hold 1.5 billion doses. Lower middle-income countries hold 721 million doses. And low-income countries hold 770 million.

UNICEF estimates that less than 1 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has been vaccinated so far. More than one-third of the population of the United States has received at least one dose, and almost half those in the UK has received a first treatment.

Brown suggested that the G7 is "best positioned" to agree to transfer vaccine technology to low-income countries. The G7 is made up of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States. The next G7 annual summit, which will also be attended by representatives from the European Union, is set for June 11.

"We cannot afford to not act," Brown said. "The funds needed are a fraction of the trillions COVID-19 is costing us. They are less than 2 percent of (US President) Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Indeed, it would benefit the US or Europe to underwrite the first $30 billion-not as an act of charity, but as self-insurance to protect national interests. If the G7 came together in June to fund mass vaccination, by 2025, their economies would be at least $500 billion better off, according to the Eurasia Group."

Brown said a temporary waiver on vaccine patents, which is a proposal championed by the People's Vaccine Alliance, would "help Africa create its own manufacturing facilities and end months of vaccine nationalism".

The UK government said it has been "a leading donor" to the COVAX program, which is a global initiative aimed at ensuring access in poorer nations to novel coronavirus vaccines.

"Millions of doses have been sent to developing countries through the COVAX scheme already," a UK government spokesperson told the BBC. "With our G7 partners, we will intensify our cooperation on the health response to COVID-19, including the acceleration of global vaccine development and deployment."

The COVAX program has been criticized for its slow rollout, having distributed 38 million doses in about 100 countries since February.

At a news conference on Friday, the World Health Organization said there remains a "shocking imbalance "in the global distribution of vaccines.

"On average, in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a COVID-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it's one in more than 500," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

China has actively sought to increase vaccine supply in the developing world, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin, who confirmed in February that China is providing vaccine aid to 53 developing countries and has exported or is exporting vaccines to 22 countries.

"Chinese vaccines will be made a global public good contributing to the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in developing countries," Wang said.

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