G7 vaccine pledge is just a drop in the ocean, campaigners say


By Kate Holton and Alistair Smout

CARBIS BAY, England -A Group of Seven plan to donate 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries lacks ambition, is far too slow and shows Western leaders are not yet up to the job of tackling the worst public health crisis in a century, campaigners said on Friday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he expected G7 leaders to agree the donations as part of a plan to inoculate the world's nearly 8 billion people against the coronavirus by the end of next year.

After U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to supercharge the battle against the virus with a donation of 500 million Pfizer shots, Johnson said Britain would give at least 100 million vaccines within the next year. Other pledges may follow.

But health and anti-poverty campaigners said that while the donations were a step in the right direction, Western leaders had shown a lack of ambition and a failure to grasp the exceptional efforts needed to beat the virus.

"The new U.S. and UK commitments are a step in the right direction, but they don't go far enough, fast enough," said Alex Harris, director of government relations at Wellcome, a London-based science and health charitable foundation.

"What the world needs is vaccines now, not later this year. At this historic moment, the G7 must show the political leadership our crisis demands," said Harris. "We urge G7 leaders to raise their ambition."

The race to bring an end to a pandemic that has killed around 3.9 million people globally and sown social and economic destruction will feature prominently at the three-day summit which begins on Friday in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab warned that other countries were using vaccines as diplomatic tools to secure influence. Britain and the United States said their donations would come with no strings attached.

COVID-19 has ripped through the global economy, with infections reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

'FAILURE'

As most people need two vaccine doses, and possibly booster shots to tackle emerging variants, campaigners said the G7 commitments marked a start but that world leaders needed to go much further, and much faster.

"If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate 1 billion vaccine doses then this summit will have been a failure," Oxfam's health policy manager Anna Marriott said, adding that the world would need 11 billion doses to end the pandemic.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Oxfam also called on G7 leaders to support a waiver on the intellectual property behind the vaccines.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said intellectual property rights should not hinder access to vaccines during a pandemic, and that Paris would join South Africa in proposing that nations work on a limited easing of rules.

Biden has already backed a proposed patent waiver for vaccines targeting the novel coronavirus that advocates say could help boost availability.

VACCINE OWNERSHIP?

The pharmaceutical industry has opposed it, saying it would stifle innovation and do little to effectively increase vaccine supplies. Britain, which backed Oxford-AstraZeneca's not-for-profit shot, has said a patent waiver is not necessary.

Of the 100 million British shots, 80 million will go to the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the rest will be shared bilaterally with countries in need.

Johnson echoed Biden in calling on his fellow leaders to make similar pledges and for pharmaceutical companies to adopt the not-for-profit model during the pandemic. The U.S. Pfizer donations will be supplied at cost.

Leaving poorer countries to deal with the pandemic alone risks allowing the virus to further mutate and evade vaccines, scientists have warned. Charities have also said that logistical support will be needed to help administer large numbers of vaccines in poorer countries.

The British doses will be drawn from the stock it has already procured for its domestic programme, and will come from suppliers Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen, Moderna and others.

(Reporting by Kate Holton and Alistair Smout; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Alex Richardson and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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