G7 generosity not enough- one billion doses but one billion passes too

G7 -a club of rich democracies - at its on-going summit, has committed to donating a billion doses of covid-19 vaccine to countries in need. But it can do a lot more and is not doing enough

G7 generosity not enough- one billion doses but one billion passes too

V Venkateswara Rao

"The West is passing up the opportunity of the century. There could be no better advertisement for democracy and free markets than a rapid global vaccination drive" screamed the headline of a story published by The Economist.

G7 - the club of rich democracies - at its on-going summit at Cornwall, has committed to donating a billion doses of covid-19 vaccine to countries in need, that is to low - and middle-income countries. As generous as it may sound, the gift of one billion doses still falls short of inoculating the WHO - stipulated 70% of world population to achieve herd immunity.

The IMF reckons it would cost only $ 50 billion to get 70% of the world’s adults inoculated. That is a mere 0.13% of the G7 countries’ GDP. The benefits would vastly outweigh the expenses. The fund says the resulting boost to the global economy would reach $ 9 trillion by 2025 - a return of 17,900%. If the G7 stops short of rapid, universal vaccination, it is passing up the deal of a lifetime.

The G7 member states have historically been the leading group of democracies to drive forward ambitious visions to confront global crises. Such high-level leadership two decades ago led the world out of the then runaway HIV/AIDS crisis. COVID-19 is a crisis on a scale and complexity even greater than HIV/AIDS and demands no less. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars in lost economic activity.

A study by the World Bank conducted in 128 countries - provides some key insights. The key findings of this vaccine readiness assessment study in 128 countries are:
1. Only 30% of them have processes to train the large number of vaccinators required, and even fewer, only 27% have undertaken significant steps to address vaccine uncertainty and hesitancy in their populations.

2. The existence of well-functioning child immunization systems is not a strong predictor of a country's readiness to deliver COVID-19 vaccines. In-country vaccine distribution and delivery capabilities are largely focused on routine immunizations for children. They will face intense pressure over the coming months to enable rapid mass-vaccination campaigns that ensure equitable access for adult populations on a national level, a challenge that many countries have not faced before.

The G7 countries currently control access to most of the supply of the high-quality vaccines - both through purchase agreements and through regional manufacturing capacity. While establishing new, high-quality vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa, Asia (outside of India) and Latin America will take time, the G7 is uniquely positioned to work with leading manufacturers and local and regional authorities to create it.

G7 members - with their unparalleled political and financial might and their combined vaccine expertise and manufacturing capacities - must accelerate development of high-quality globally distributed manufacturing capacity by bringing together public and private sector stakeholders and using voluntary licensing agreements. The G7 countries should also ease or remove export restrictions and other barriers.

The G7 should bring together multilateral capabilities, in coordination with WHO, Gavi, UNICEF, COVAX, IMF, World Bank and other such relevant organizations and programs - to enable every country to achieve vaccination of 70% of population by the end of 2021 and to bring this pandemic to an end.

( V Venkateswara Rao is an alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad and a retired corporate professional.)

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