LONDON: The Group of Seven wealthy democracies on Wednesday worked on plans to scale up global Covid-19 vaccinations, as calls mounted for a drastic increase in funding to help developing nations virtually shut out of early efforts.
Foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States are setting the agenda for a G7 leaders’ summit next month in Cornwall, southern England, which will mark US President Joe Biden’s international debut as president.
The G7 opened its final day with a session focused on open societies before taking up Covid-19 as well as the fight against climate change.
“A really valuable part of the G7 format is to think in the round — what do we need to do to help the most vulnerable countries around the world?” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters.
More than 1.2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered globally, but fewer than one percent in the least developed countries.
With support from most wealthy nations, the UN-backed Covax programme is meant to share vaccines with the poorest nations.
But rich countries have also effectively elbowed out Covax in the early stages, striking their own deals with drug manufacturers.
Raab stressed the importance of Covax but said there was an additional question of “what we do about surplus domestic supply”.
The United States could soon be sitting on as many as 300 million extra doses — nearly equivalent to its entire population — due to ongoing contracts with manufacturers and success at home in inoculation campaigns, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Biden quickly joined Covax after taking office in January, a reversal from the nationalism of his predecessor Donald Trump, and has promised $4 billion for the programme — far more than any other country. The Biden administration last week also said it would divert 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, which has not been approved in the United States, and provide $100 million in immediate supplies to India.
But Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown has said far more is necessary and urged the G7 to provide the bulk of $60 billion that he says is needed over the next two years to vaccinate the whole world.
Brown, who led a 2009 summit of the broader Group of 20 that was credited with helping address the global economic crisis, said wealthy nations should shoulder the cost using a formula based on their national income and the benefits they would enjoy from the resumption of global commerce.
The hefty $60 billion price tag is not charity but “the best insurance policy for the world”, Brown said this week.
The result will be “trillions of additional economic output, made possible when trade resumes in a Covid-free world,” said Brown, who serves a UN special envoy for global education.