After the announcements from the United States, that it would donate 500 million doses of vaccines, and from the European Union, promising 100 million, this Friday (11) came the United Kingdom’s turn. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the donation of another 100 million doses. In total, the G7—the industrialized nations forum that meets until Sunday—is expected to send 1 billion doses to about 100 low-income countries by the end of 2022.
For industry entities, however, it is too little and too late. The WHO (World Health Organization) calculates at 11 billion the number of doses needed to immunize 70% of people in the world and says that vaccination has to accelerate to reduce the chance of new mutations of Sars-Cov-2. If, as politicians and activists are constantly repeating, “no one is safe until everyone is safe”, the number of doses offered by the G7 is barely enough to start.
Us calculations from vaccine expert Peter Hotez, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine (USA), just to protect Africa, the most backward continent in terms of access to immunization agents, would require 2.2 billion doses (until this week, only 2.9% of the African population received at least one injection). Another 1.3 billion would be needed for Latin America and another 1 billion for Southeast Asia. The G7 offering fills less than a quarter of that gap.
Commenting on the British announcement made this morning, UNICEF also stated that the volume and speed of donations needs to grow. According to Joanna Rea, director of the British section of the UN Children’s Fund, the Covax consortium —which centralizes the purchase and delivery of immunizations to more than 100 countries— urgently needs 190 million doses for the most vulnerable groups.
There are countries that are far from completing the vaccination of the elderly and health professionals and, of the nearly 2.3 billion vaccines already applied in the world, only 0.3% were given to low-income nations — the G7 countries, which have 10% of the world’s population consumed a quarter of them.
For Save the Children, another problem is the deadline for the G7 offer — 1 billion is the amount of doses that would need to be delivered by September this year, says the organization. In addition, a statement from around 100 major British non-governmental entities asks for US$66 billion (R$336 billion) to guarantee the logistics of distribution and application of these vaccines.
This is even more important in the case of the American donation, because vaccines use a more complex technology and need to be deep-frozen until they are used – a structure that the poorest countries do not have.
The use of the G7 as a stage for announcing its donations also exposed the difference in strategy between the United States and the European Union. While the former held exports before immunizing most of its population, Europe was one of the main exporters in the world, with 270 million doses, but was behind in its vaccination campaigns: it applied 54 doses per 100 inhabitants, against 65 in the North -Americans.
The “political economy” of giving is also quite different. When announcing his offer on Thursday (10), Biden made a point of saying that they were being bought by the American government, from an American company, which manufactures in American territory and gives employment to Americans. In addition, it placed itself as a more “friendly” alternative to China, stressing that its vaccines will be donated “without return”.
The European Union, in turn, took the multilateral path in May last year, when viable vaccines did not yet exist, co-sponsoring the Covax consortium, which centralizes the purchase and distribution of immunization agents. So far this week, nearly €3 billion ($18.6 billion) has been donated to Covax by the EU, in addition to the 100 million doses announced during the G7 meeting.
Together with the resources of the EU members, in total the European bloc transferred almost 16 billion euros (R$ 99.1 billion) to global actions for the distribution of tests, treatments and vaccines. Of the great global players, the European Union and its main countries have been the most active in the G7 so far, but the path they chose makes it difficult for the political billing of this effort.
Furthermore, if the multilateral path has advantages —in gaining scale and focusing on the poorest—, its governance is more complicated and may end up being less efficient. Covax has a goal of delivering 2 billion doses by the end of this year, but as of this week it had only shipped 81 million — the US alone has given nearly four times the number of injections internally.
The consortium has concentrated its orders on AstraZeneca, which makes sense when you want to do more with fewer resources to reach more people in underdeveloped countries — the immunizer is cheaper and simpler to store and distribute than Pfizer’s, donated by Biden. But, for various reasons, the manufacturer only delivered only 30 million of the more than 200 million doses that should already be available. As a result, Covax has only delivered 81 million doses to 129 countries, equivalent to 1% of the population in those countries.
This is where the discussion on how to guarantee the production of vaccines — choked up by the lack of raw material and production capacity — and speed it up comes in. One proposal, presented by India and South Africa and endorsed by the United States, France and the European Parliament, is to suspend patents on immunization agents so that developing countries can manufacture them. According to calculations by the NGO Oxfam, if laboratories were to renounce their intellectual property rights, the cost of vaccinating developing countries would fall from US$80 billion to US$6.5 billion (from R$407 billion to R$33 billion).
The European Commission, however, resists this idea on the grounds that the bottlenecks that restrict manufacturing are different: lack of raw material, structure and know-how. The EU Executive intends to take a detailed alternative project to be discussed at the WTO (World Trade Organization), but the entity’s decisions are taken by consensus, which requires time for negotiation.
The expectation is that any announcements about intellectual property rights will be made by November, too long a time for immunization specialists. “At the current rate of vaccination, it would take 57 years for poor countries to reach the same level of protection as the G7,” said Oxfam. In addition to intellectual property, other areas where the G7 powers could collaborate are the trade in supplies and packaging.
On Friday night, the leaders had dinner scheduled with Queen Elizabeth II, Princes Charles and William and their wives, Camilla and Kate. The Eden Project, where the meeting takes place, is an environmental center, a priority theme for Charles, 72. In a separate meeting with the G7, the prince and executives from large companies that are part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative, to discuss coordinated actions between sectors public and private in combating climate change.
The G7 dinner will be the Queen’s first meeting with foreign leaders since the pandemic began in late 2019. At 95, she lost her husband Prince Philip two months ago, to whom she was married for 73 years . He would be 100 years old on this Thursday (10).