When the G7 nations meet in June, the World Health Organization hopes they can agree to fund a $60 billion drive to vaccinate much of the world’s adult population.
(CN) — The World Health Organization on Monday issued a new plea calling on rich nations to fund a two-year, $60 billion global vaccination campaign to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of a G7 meeting next month hosted by Great Britain, the United States and other rich nations are showing greater willingness to share vaccine stockpiles, fund a worldwide vaccination drive and boost production around the globe by supporting an intellectual property waiver on vaccine patents.
“We face a shared threat that we can only overcome with shared solutions, sharing financial resources, sharing vaccine doses and production capacity and sharing technology know-how and waiving intellectual property,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, during a Monday news briefing.
“This is a moral catastrophe if we cannot help vaccinate and provide help to the poorest people in the world,” said Gordon Brown, a former British prime minister, during the briefing. As a United Nations special envoy, Brown is speaking with world leaders in an effort to build support for the WHO’s global vaccination effort.
Brown said backing for the WHO’s vaccination campaign is growing and that it is imperative for G7 leaders to commit to funding the initiative by a June 11-13 meeting in Cornwall. The group of rich nations is made up of the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan.
The former Labour prime minister said G7 leaders must act quickly to prevent the pandemic from getting even worse. Brown oversaw a G20 meeting in 2009 after the 2007-2008 financial crisis where rich nations supported debt relief for poorer nations.
Tedros said the WHO’s initiatives to distribute medicines, equipment and vaccines around the world are facing a funding shortfall of about $19 billion this year. There’s a funding gap even though many richer countries have provided considerable sums. In February, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged $4 billion to Covax, the WHO initiative to distribute vaccines to poorer nations.
The U.N. health agency says it will need between $35 billion and $45 billion next year to fulfill its goal to vaccinate much of the world’s adult population.
Tedros said Covax has shipped nearly 50 million doses to 121 nations, but that is far fewer than it had hoped to distribute by this time.
Besides funding, a few nations – France, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden – have helped by donating parts of their vaccine stockpiles to Covax. On Monday, Sweden announced it was donating 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to the initiative.
“We continue to face severe supply constraints,” Tedros said about vaccine distribution.
Tedros said action by the G7 powers is crucial.
“The G7 countries are the world’s economic and political leaders,” he said. “They are also home to many of the world’s vaccine producers. We will only solve the vaccine crisis with the leadership of these countries.”
Richer nations are being asked to support a waiver of vaccine patents to make it easier to ramp up production of vaccines in laboratories around the world. India and South Africa have championed the idea of a waiver, but the U.S. and Europe have resisted it so far. A waiver isn’t the only way to ramp up production and vaccine makers are signing licensing agreements to share their technologies with manufacturers in various parts of the world.
Brown said the crisis calls for massive funding from richer nations. He said global vaccination can’t depend on charity alone.
“You can’t rely on just passing the begging bowl around when you’ve got a crisis of life and death. You can’t treat this like a charity fundraiser. You’ve got to have a systematic plan for equitable burden sharing,” he said.
One such international charity event was organized in Los Angeles when celebrities took part in Vax Live on Sunday and raised about $54 million for Covax.
Thousands of vaccinated guests showed up at the SoFi Stadium to hear celebrity performers, such as Jennifer Lopez and the Foo Fighters, and pleas for vaccine equity from Prince Harry, Pope Francis, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian President Justin Trudeau.
Prince Harry said vaccines must be “distributed to everyone everywhere.” Biden also spoke via a prerecorded video and said he was “working with leaders around the world to share more vaccines and boost production.” The Vax Live concert will be aired on Saturday.
Brown said he had spoken with Biden about the need for a temporary waiver for vaccine patents, sharing doses and funding the WHO’s initiatives. He said he has no doubt Biden “is determined to do what he can.”
“We cannot have a two-speed world and divided world as a result of a vaccination that is being discovered but is not yet available to everyone who needs it,” Brown said.
Experts say that unless people around the world are vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread and mutate, leading to more sickness, death, restrictions and economic devastation.
“We are at this critical moment in the fight against Covid-19,” Brown said. “No one is safe anywhere until everyone is safe everywhere, and no country can be finally Covid-free until every country is Covid-free.”
Brown said it is well within the means of the world’s richest nations to fund worldwide vaccination. He estimated it will cost about $30 billion a year.
“It is money we cannot afford not to spend,” he said, estimating that investing in global vaccination will reap huge economic benefits by unlocking world trade.
He said a fair breakdown in contributions would see the U.S. spending about $7 billion a year, or about 27%, of the total cost, with Europe providing about 23% of the sum, Japan 6%, the U.K. 5% and South Korea, Australia and Canada each 2%. South Korea and Australia have been invited to attend the G7 meeting. He said the G7 nations should pay for about two-thirds of the total cost with other wealthy nations picking up the rest of the tab.
Brown said funding the WHO should not be seen “as an act of charity, but as a matter of national security for each of us, as the best insurance policy in the world.”
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.