© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A migrant holds her baby as she receives a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Mavrovouni camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Alkis Konstanti
By Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper
CARBIS BAY, England (Reuters) – 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 fight against the virus with a donation of 500 million Pfizer (NYSE:) shots, Johnson said Britain would give at least 100 million vaccines within a year.
Canada is expected to commit to sharing up to 100 million doses. Other pledges may follow.
But health and anti-poverty campaigners said that, while donations were a step in the right direction, Western leaders had failed to grasp the exceptional efforts needed to beat the virus. Help with distribution was also necessary, they said.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who has been pushing for richer countries to share more of the cost of vaccinating developing countries, said the G7 pledges were more akin to “passing round the begging bowl” than a real solution.
“It’s a catastrophic failure if we can’t go away in the next week or two … with a plan that actually rids the world of COVID now we’ve got a vaccine,” he told Reuters.
Alex Harris at Wellcome, a London-based science and health charitable foundation, said the pledges did not go far enough.
“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 end a pandemic that has killed around 3.9 million people and sown social and economic destruction will feature prominently at the three-day summit which began 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.
As most people need two vaccine doses, and possibly booster shots to tackle emerging variants, campaigners said 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, appearing to back Biden on the subject.
But the pharmaceutical industry has opposed it, saying it would stifle innovation and do little to increase 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.
Mass vaccination against the novel coronavirus is seen as crucial to restoring economic growth and preventing the virus from further mutation that could evade vaccines.
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, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:)’s Janssen, Moderna (NASDAQ:) and others.