The G7 summit in Cornwall will determine who is vaccinated against COVID-19 and safe and who remains unvaccinated and at risk. Leaders in rich countries may be tempted to share surplus vaccines rather than fund the additional costs of global immunization, but that will not be enough.
LONDON – The G7 summit which begins on Friday will mark the first time world leaders have met in person in nearly two years. This is Joe Biden’s first such meeting as US President and Angela Merkel’s last as German Chancellor. The rally will also be the first test of what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s oft-cited slogan really means.
Thinking of previous G7 summits, most people will remember a little more than the opportunities to take well-choreographed leader photos. But on rare occasions, a G7 can make significant political breakthroughs. Thus in 2009, in consultation with African leaders, the G8, hosted by Italy, innovated in the area of international development. Introducing this session, I remember telling other leaders the story of a Rwandan schoolboy caught in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum, where, in a section devoted to children, we can find his photograph and a plaque that says:
David, 11 years old
Ambition: to be a doctor
Favorite sport: football
Favorite pastime: making people laugh
Death: by mutilation
Final words: the UN is coming to save us
In his idealism and innocence, David believed that the international community would save him and his mother. We did not do it. David’s story has been repeated by US President Barack Obama and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. We agreed that the international community had done too little to help those at risk of death, and our communiqué announced our intention to do much more.
Return to health: making up for lost time
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Once again, a matter of life and death, and the costs of inaction, should be high on the G7 agenda. Our failure so far to capitalize on the development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines with a plan to immunize the entire world is unacceptable. Already 3.8 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. Some 80,000 more die every week. And it is no exaggeration to claim that G7 members will decide who is vaccinated and safe and who remains unvaccinated and at risk.
In recent days, the United States has offered to provide 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to developing countries, and may offer more. The UK is expected to offer 100 million doses. Others will respond as well.
But the figures discussed are below the 11 billion doses needed. We need a continuous flow over the next few months and beyond to deliver on Johnson’s commitment to vaccinate the entire world by the end of 2022. Achieving this requires secured funding and pooled purchasing. which in turn lead to new manufacturing capacity and a secure vaccine supply pipeline. on all continents. And we need a decision to fund all of this now if we are to avoid the usual vicious cycle that the world does not bear the costs and we run out of the immunization supplies we need.
The portents for the world’s poorest countries are not yet encouraging.
The vast majority of the 2.5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine produced so far have gone to the wealthiest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa received less than 2%. As a result, only 2% of the region’s population received a first injection of the vaccine, and only 0.2% are fully immunized. The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, calls it “vaccine apartheid.” And today, as Africa’s COVID-19 infection rates rise by around 25% per week, the world’s poorest countries face two problems that perhaps only the G7 can solve. First, they cannot contain the spread of the disease if they have to line up this summer and fall to receive the remaining Western doses, most of which will not arrive until next year. Second, they cannot reach Western immunization levels or protect themselves with tests and protective equipment without more financial support: $ 16 billion more is needed this year, and more than $ 30 billion in 2022.
A proposal from the leaders of Norway and South Africa illustrates how the world can raise the necessary money. Their formula takes into account the income and wealth of each country, and the differential benefits they would derive from reopening the global economy. Based on their ability to pay, the G7, along with South Korea and Australia, would bear 67% of the costs. The United States would pay 27%, Europe 22%, the United Kingdom 5% and Japan 6%, with Canada, South Korea and Australia each contributing 2%. Other G20 countries, including China, Russia and oil countries, would cover the rest.
But there is, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “such a thing as being too late.” The world needs a G7 decision this week, or lives will continue to be lost. The world cannot afford vaccine apartheid.