**Article updated after publication with comment from Health Minister’s office about Australia’s global/regional vaccination commitments**
A new threat to global security is emerging through “vaccine diplomacy”, with some countries using their supplies to strengthen regional ties and enhance their own power and global status, according to Michael Jennings, Reader in International Development at the University of London.
His warning comes as the World Health Organization and other international leaders called this week for an end to ‘vaccine nationalism’, as they backed the launch of an ambitious Recovery Plan for the World, which urges all sectors to act in five critical areas.
Marie McInerney writes:
Wealthy countries are being urged donate five percent of their COVID-19 vaccines to vaccinate healthcare workers in developing nations, particularly Africa, as part of the launch of a Recovery Plan for the World from international advocacy organization Global Citizen.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and European Union were among those on Wednesday who backed the earlier call by French President Emmanuel Macron for wealthy nations to commit five percent of their vaccine doses to global vaccination, amid growing concerns about ‘vaccine nationalism’.
The Global Citizen advocacy group, which last year led the One World: Together at Home and Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaigns with the WHO, also called on the world’s richest people and companies to step up to the broader challenges of equity and climate action, contributing to change and more innovative ways of financing recovery.
Co-founder and CEO Hugh Evans urged the pharmaceutical industry to commit to not-for-profit pricing for their vaccines for poorer nations, to transparent and reliable delivery schedules for all nations and to license vaccines and other COVID-19 tools to competitors to maximise supply.
WHO Secretary-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the online launch of the Recovery Plan that the WHO and its partners had last year launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, with two aims: to develop vaccines, tests and treatments fast, and distribute them fairly.
“The first objective has been achieved; the second is in jeopardy,” he said.
Tedros said he had issued a challenge, at the beginning of 2021, to all countries to ensure that vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries within the first 100 days of this year.
With just 46 days to go, “so far, 210 million doses of vaccine have been administered globally, but half of those are in just two countries, and 80 percent are in 10 countries,” he said.
“Many countries are yet to administer a single dose.”
As at late January 2021, only one of the world’s 29 poorest countries had received any vaccines, while wealthy countries representing just 13 percent of the world’s population have pre-purchased more than half of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates, Global Citizen said.
Tedros said that this year’s World Health Day was being held on April 8 under the theme of building a healthier, fairer world.
But to make that “a reality and not just a slogan”, he said urgent action was needed from high-income countries and manufacturers to fully fund the ACT Accelerator and share doses with COVAX, which is aiming to mobilise two billion doses for the world by the end of 2021.
Global Citizen said the nearly US$23 billion shortfall that faced the Accelerator and COVAX represented less than one percent of the total $13 trillion that the G20 nations spent on stimulating their economies through the pandemic.
Australia is a signatory to COVAX Facility and has to date committed $80 million to support vaccine access for up to 94 lower-income countries through the Facility’s Advanced Market Commitment.
Croakey asked Health Minister Greg Hunt’s office whether it will commit to Macron’s five percent vaccine donation goal. It replied:
Australia has committed $80 million through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment mechanism to improve access to safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines for 92 countries around the world.
There is no higher priority for countries in our region than access to COVID-19 vaccines, which will help economies reopen and ensure stability. We are facing the same challenges in Australia as our neighbours face, and we recognise our shared future prosperity depends on all our countries, making it through the pandemic, together.
The Australian Government has committed $523 million over three years to providing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for 18 countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. We will be guided by, and support, country-led vaccination strategies to provide end to end support. This includes technical advice for planning such as supply chain distribution; assessments of vaccine safety, efficacy and quality; and help to roll out critical public health information.”
Tedros and Evans were speaking at the star-studded Global Citizen Recovery Plan for the World event, which featured German Chancellor Angela Merkel, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and European Union President Ursula von der Leyen, as well as entertainers Hugh Jackman and Billie Eilish, who urged young people around the world to mobilise.
The event also heard rallying calls for global action from business from Declan Kelly, head of the global CEO advisory firm Teneo, a coalition of global corporates, including Citi, Cisco, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, Google, Live Nation, P&G and Verizon.
Evans said richer companies and individuals were failing in their commitments to global recovery to date, with only a quarter of the Fortune 500 companies, with combined revenues of US$33.3 trillion, having yet made a public commitment to become carbon neutral, use 100 percent renewable energy or meet science-based emission targets by 2030.
“We know that the world’s 2,150 billionaires saw their wealth grow by almost US$2 trillion in the pandemic, while 240 of the United States’ wealthiest people gave less than one percent of their wealth away in philanthropy,” he said.
Meanwhile, a group of global institutional investors, including Australian super fund Hesta, issued a joint call for a fair and equitable global response to the pandemic, including through fully financing the ACT Accelerator partnership.
Their statement, co-ordinated by the Access to Medicine Foundation, also noted the inequity in the vaccination rollout to date, saying that of the 128 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered so far, more than three-quarters have been administered in just 10 countries that account for 60 percent of global GDP.
The investor group made the financial case for vaccine equity, saying that if COVID-19 tools are not distributed fairly and the virus continues to spread in low- and middle-income countries, “the additional impacts could be considerable: nearly twice as many deaths and US$ 9.2 trillion in global economic losses”.
“These losses dwarf the funding needed to enable vaccines to be procured for everyone, everywhere – making a clear “investment case” for full capitalization of the ACT-Accelerator and a coordinated global approach to distribution,” the joint statement said. It cited:
- economic modelling from the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation that shows “advanced economies stand to lose trillions of dollars through vaccine nationalism” – more than previously thought
- data published by Bill and Melinda Gates warning that leaving low- and lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs) without access to vaccines amid the COVID-19 pandemic will cause significant economic damage, putting decades of economic progress at risk – for both LLMICs and advanced economies alike.
Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World declares:
The COVID-19 pandemic is not just going to be a chapter in history books, but a watershed moment for humanity. There will be a before and after.”
It advocates for commitments from governments, business, and philanthropists in five critical areas.
1. End COVID-19 for all
The initiative will campaign in support of the ACT-Accelerator, which still needs more than US $22 billion to ensure at least two billion vaccines and other COVID-19 medical interventions are available to the poorest countries by the end of 2021 “before vaccine resistant variants begin to emerge and gather pace”.
2. End the hunger crisis
With the number of people facing hunger set to double as a direct result of the pandemic, the campaign is calling for funding for programs that work to reduce food waste, support smallholder farmers, and aid in attaining healthier and better school feeding programs for kids of all ages. Global Citizen is advocating for increases in long-term investments to ensure food systems remain resilient and production is not disrupted during the recovery process.
3. Resume learning everywhere
The campaign says at least US$300 million is needed to support millions of marginalised children’s access to quality and inclusive education, school meals, empowerment for girls and children with disabilities, mental and physical health programming, teacher training, technology, remote learning resources and more.
It found an estimated 370 million children have lost access to school meals due to school closures in the wake of the pandemic. As many as 132 million more people may be undernourished.
4. Protect the planet
Global Citizen says “not a single country” is taking sufficient action to stop climate change, while only a quarter of Fortune Global 500 companies have made a public commitment to become carbon neutral, use 100 percent renewable power, or meet a science-based emission reduction target by 2030.
Speaking at the launch, US climate envoy John Kerry, who had earlier at the UN Security Council noted the “inexcusable absence” of the US on climate in the previous four years, said the COP26 UN climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow later this year represented “the best last chance” for action.
5. Advance equity for all
Global Citizen is calling on the private sector to lean in through transformative commitments to people-centred justice, gender equality, racial equity, inclusion of persons with disabilities, and support for human rights and justice defenders worldwide.
It says 2020 saw some “stunning flashpoints” on racial equity and the fair administration of justice and policing, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests and the #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria, forcing the world to “reckon with alarming examples of police brutality and systemic racism” and presenting a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move on racial equity.
The report finds COVID-19 has not only threatened everyone’s health, but has exacerbated the spread of other deadly diseases and further burdened struggling health systems, with at least 80 million children having missed routine immunisations. As well, 80 percent of tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria programs worldwide reported disruptions in services, resulting in cases going undetected and treatments being missed.