Funding has been pledged, doses have been shared, agreements have been made to expand production — yet over 80% of COVID-19 vaccines administered so far have been in upper-income countries, while only 0.4% have been in low-income countries.
One month from now, the G7 will convene its first leaders' summit in two years and must use the opportunity to advance comprehensive collective action on global vaccine equity. There’s simply no other choice. Coronavirus variants continue to emerge threatening cycles of COVID-19 spread, developing countries are at greater risk as we’re tragically seeing in India, and roughly 90,000 people globally are dying from this disease every week.
The Chair of the G7 this year, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, especially must seize the moment presented by this summit to call for comprehensive action. He has spoken for years about “Global Britain” and yet the UK government’s actions in recent months, notably slashing the UK aid budget, must lead us to question if there is any substance behind the rhetoric. Now is the time for the UK to reverse course and set out a bold G7 agenda on vaccine equity.
Comprehensive action means the following:
SHARING FUNDING: Fully funding the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), including its vaccine pillar COVAX, as a fundamental step towards ending the pandemic everywhere (noting that additional funding will ultimately be needed to support vaccine delivery and the procurement of medical tools to save lives and reach collective global immunity);
SHARING DOSES: Sharing millions of more doses now, not later, and setting a plan to give away all projected excess to lower-income countries with COVAX, in parallel to vaccination efforts at home;
SHARING KNOWLEDGE & TECH: Boosting global supply over the medium term by temporarily suspending patents and intellectual property (IP), and compelling manufacturers to engage in wider, more open, and better coordinated global production and distribution of vaccines.
Fortunately, the G7 need only look within its ranks to find examples of leadership in these areas.
So far, Canada and Germany are two of only three countries to commit their fair share in funding to ACT-A based on economic strength (Canada recently crossed this threshold as part of VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World). In comparison, Japan, France, and Italy are each only roughly 15% of the way to their fair shares. Look no further than the crisis in India to see why this funding is urgently needed, not only to help secure vaccine doses but also to provide other life-saving medical supplies like oxygen and therapeutics.
On dose sharing, France has been a vocal leader on the need for wealthy countries to share doses with lower-income countries now, not later, and has pledged to share at least 500,000 doses by June. The US has pledged to share a significant volume of 60 million doses by that point (although details remain scant on when exactly these will be exported). Meanwhile, the UK, Canada, Germany, and Italy have not yet made concrete commitments to share their projected excess in the hundreds of millions of doses, beyond statements of intent to share surplus after all of their citizens are given access. That’s not equity.
And on the sharing of knowledge and technology, only the US has come out in favor of the temporary suspension of IP and has made a commitment to work towards that outcome in negotiations at the World Trade Organization. The UK and Japan are opposed to the idea, while Canada remains on the fence. The EU is open for discussions, with divergent views among member states including France and Italy being more open to it than Germany.
To ensure IP sharing results in more vaccines for everyone, everywhere over the medium term, we also need more open technology transfer, significant investments in vaccine production in both the Global North and South, and wider access to raw materials. Relatedly, we need to see the US and UK fully lift export limitations on vaccines. In comparison, the EU so far has been the biggest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines globally and sees this as the priority issue.
When G7 leaders meet next month, they have an opportunity to dramatically reduce the length of the pandemic, save lives, and kickstart the global recovery. But the only way it will happen is if all G7 nations step up and fully adopt each of these measures and issue a global call to others to follow their example. Otherwise there will be further unnecessary loss of life and economic hardship for all. The time to act is now.