G20 leaders pledge to ensure global access to Covid vaccines

G20 leaders pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure cheap, global access to Covid-19 vaccines, even as they failed to make specific commitments on the distribution of early doses.

After a virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, leaders said they fully supported collaborative efforts to purchase and distribute coronavirus vaccines even though the US has so far declined to join the World Health Organisation’s flagship vaccine distribution scheme, Covax.

“We recognise the role of extensive immunisation as a global public good,” the G20 communique said following the weekend-long meeting.

So far the world’s most powerful economies have bought up almost all of the available doses of the two most promising Covid-19 vaccines from Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership. The companies were the first to release data from phase 3 clinical trials and both shots have demonstrated an efficacy rate of more than 94 per cent.

Pfizer and BioNTech have the capacity to produce 1.35bn doses of their vaccine by the end of 2021, including 50m doses by the end of the year. The majority of those doses have been reserved by the US, EU, UK and Japan.

The G20 leaders skirted the question of how many doses they would reserve for their own populations and how many they would release to the Covax scheme, which aims to ensure the global distribution of 2bn vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

Donald Trump only took part in the opening session of the weekend-long meeting before leaving to play golf © Saudi Press Agency/Reuters

Many G20 leaders nevertheless said it was their ambition to secure vaccines for developing countries because the coronavirus crisis would only be solved when the virus was defeated worldwide.

Emmanuel Macron, French president, said the response needed to be global, co-ordinated and “based on solidarity”. German chancellor Angela Merkel said the Covid-19 challenge “can only be overcome with a global effort”.

Donald Trump, who took part in the opening session of the G20 before leaving to play golf, emphasised the need for the G20 to work together to restore strong global economic growth after the pandemic.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the global board chair of Gavi, the global alliance for immunisations, said the Covax scheme had received sufficient funds from G20 nations to buy vaccines and begin to distribute them fairly, but that it would need significant further resources in 2021.

“The virus is winning,” she said. If the leading economies could mobilise $24bn in 2021 to fight Covid-19, “the G20 will build a strong foundation to end the pandemic.”

The distribution of vaccines in 2021 will be a key test of whether inter-governmental co-operation efforts have been sufficient to ensure those most in need get early immunisation, or whether the richest countries use their financial muscle to remain at the front of the queue.

Apart from rubber-stamping this month’s agreement to extend the suspension of debt repayments for poor countries, the G20 leaders did not make specific joint commitments to support the world’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Instead, they urged every country to act as aggressively as possible for their individual circumstances.

“We underscore the urgent need to bring the spread of the virus under control, which is key to supporting global economic recovery,” the communique said.

All of the G20 governments, including the Trump administration, signed up to the communique’s call to support the multilateral trading system, pledged to seek agreement on international taxation of multinationals in the first half of 2021, and agreed to work to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

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