Group of Seven (G7) nations vowed to donate a billion COVID-19 vaccinations to developing nations by the end of 2022. G7 leaders convened for a summit in the English seaside city of Cornwall to discuss a joint approach in fighting the pandemic. For the first time in nearly two years, the world’s richest nations gathered to discuss the vaccination donation plan, economic recovery after the global health crisis, and climate change. Campaign groups, however, criticized the vaccine donation plan as lacking ambition- a “drop in the ocean,” compared to what the world needs to overcome the pandemic.
Before the summit, United States President Joe Biden vowed to supercharge the fight against COVID-19 by donating 500 million Pfizer shots to developing nations in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa. “This is about our responsibility — our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can — and our responsibility to our values,” he said upon arrival in Cornwall.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would give at least 100 million vaccines within a year, while the European Union separately pledged 100 million doses for developing nations by the end of 2021. According to The Financial Times, the move is meant to address criticism that western governments secured the bulk of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines to immunize their own populations, leaving poorer countries with fewer resources to fend for themselves.
The donation plan is also an attempt to counter the “vaccine diplomacy” with Beijing and Moscow. Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the summit, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said there is “no doubt” some countries are using vaccines as geopolitical tools to secure influence with poorer nations that have do not have the means to produce or buy them. The U.K. and the U.S. have promised that their donations would come with no strings attached.
The pledge comes a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) urged wealthier nations to donate surplus doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries. Warning of a “two-track recovery,” wherein rich nations inoculate their populations while poorer countries lag, the WHO pressed leaders to close the gap in global vaccination rates by donating vaccines to developing nations. According to Reuters, WHO officials expressed concern that Indian supply disruptions and manufacturing delays would widen the gap doses in the COVAX sharing scheme by around 200 million.
COVAX is a joint venture between the WHO, the Center for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s fund. The sharing scheme, established in April 2020, is designed to purchase doses from manufacturers and distribute them such that every country receives an equitable share, based on population size.
Many campaigners dismissed the pledge as insufficient, criticizing the leaders for not recognizing the exceptional effort needed to beat the virus. “The new U.S. and U.K. 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.
Oxfam’s health policy manager Anna Marriott agreed, estimating that the world would need 11 billion doses to end the pandemic since most shots require two doses and possibly boosters to tackle emerging variants. “If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate 1 billion vaccine doses then this summit will have been a failure,” Marriot said. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the plan a potential failure if G7 leaders did not increase their donations. He told Reuters that the G7 pledges were more akin to “passing round the begging bowl” than a real solution.
Al Jazeera reports a clear correlation between a nation’s vaccination rates and wealth; the E.U., U.S., Israel, and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. 2.2 billion people across the world are vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data. To tackle the other issues from the G7 summit, such as restoring economic growth and enacting environmental reform, a strong and efficient plan for mass vaccination is paramount. This includes equitable global distribution of doses to prevent COVID-19 from mutating further, which could render vaccines less effective.
While donating a billion doses by the end of next year is commendable, especially without the intent of gaining diplomatic influence, it is a fraction of what is necessary to combat the pandemic. G7 leaders need to commit more and act quickly if they wish to achieve their goal of inoculating the world’s almost 8 billion people against COVID-19 by 2022.