Richer countries must urgently give more Covid vaccines to poorer nations or risk new variants emerging and forcing future lockdowns, leading world bodies have warned.
The heads of the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank Group and World Trade Organisation (WTO) make the plea in an article for The Telegraph and newspapers in other wealthy countries.
A “dangerous gap” is emerging between richer and poorer nations in the availability of jabs and risks creating a “two-track” pandemic, the authors warn.
They write: “Increasingly, a two-track pandemic is developing. Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving untold millions of people vulnerable to the virus, it is also allowing deadly variants to emerge and ricochet back across the world.
“Even countries with advanced vaccination programmes have been forced to reimpose stricter public health measures. It need not be this way.”
It comes amid concern that rising cases of the Indian variant will derail plans to lift all remaining lockdown restrictions in England from June 21.
Asked on Monday whether businesses should prepare for a delay, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said the Government “can’t rule anything out”.
Almost 75 per cent of adults in the UK have so far received their first dose of a vaccine and just over 48 per cent have received both doses, meaning they are fully vaccinated.
Although currently only those over 30 are eligible to be jabbed, anybody over 18 was invited to come forward for a vaccine at a mass walk-in vaccination centre at Twickenham Stadium on Monday.
Government ministers are already planning for a wave of “booster” shots in the autumn, with the hope that vaccines can be updated to protect against new variants.
The article for The Telegraph is authored jointly by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO; Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the IMF; David Malpass, the president of the World Bank Group, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the WTO.
It simultaneously appears in leading newspapers in other countries in the G7 group of nations: Der Spiegel in Germany, la Repubblica in Italy, Le Monde in France, The Asahi Shimbun in Japan, and The Washington Post in America. It is also running in El Pais in Spain, Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic international newspaper, O Estado de S Paulo in Brazil, the Times of India, and All Africa.com.
The authors call for $50 billion in new spending commitments, much of which would be grants to help developing nations with vaccination schemes. They suggest that the target of vaccinating 30 per cent of the world’s population by the end of 2021 should rise to 40 per cent, and 60 per cent by the first half of 2022.
To achieve this, the authors say “doses need to be donated immediately” to developing countries and call for investment in vaccine production to produce an extra one billion jabs.
The article has been timed for the week in which G7 finance ministers meet in London and G7 health ministers meet in Oxford.
It is hoped that when G7 world leaders meet in Cornwall from June 11 they can agree a breakthrough on commitments to help vaccinate the populations of developing countries. An international drive already exists to help get jabs to poorer nations – the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated to Covax, which is part run through the WHO.
Boris Johnson often points to the UK’s half a billion pound contribution to Covax when challenged on whether the country is doing enough, noting earlier this month that 40 million doses have been given to 117 countries.
But the article from the leaders of international bodies on the front line of the fight against the pandemic amounts to a warning that rich countries are still falling short of what is needed. The authors note that some low-income nations have received less than one per cent of the total Covid vaccines administered across the world so far.
They warn: “Even as some affluent countries are already discussing the rollout of booster shots to their populations, the vast majority of people in developing countries – even frontline health workers – have still not received their first shot.” They propose a three-point plan to tackle the problem:
- “Increasing our ambition and vaccinating more people faster” by raising the targets for worldwide vaccinations.
- “Insure against risks such as new variants that may require booster shots.” New variants are known to emerge when cases of Covid are soaring among populations.
- Ramp up vaccine deployment as well as testing and tracing, oxygen supplies, therapies and other public health measures.
The authors write: “It calls for upfront financing, upfront vaccine donations and upfront precautionary investments and planning, rather than commitments that may be slow to materialise.
“Investing $50 billion to end the pandemic is potentially the best use of public money we will see in our lifetimes. But the window of opportunity is closing fast. Ending the pandemic is a solvable problem that requires global action – now. Let’s all pull together and get the job done.”
The emergence of a two-track pandemic threatens us all
By Kristalina Georgieva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, David Malpass, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
As preparations are made for the G7 summit in the UK next week, top of the agenda is how to end the Covid pandemic and secure the global recovery. Urgent challenges face us. By now it has become abundantly clear there will be no broad-based recovery without an end to the health crisis. Access to vaccination is key to both.
There has been impressive progress on the vaccination front. Scientists have come up with multiple vaccines in record time. Unprecedented public and private financing has supported vaccine research, development and manufacturing scale-up. But a dangerous gap between richer and poorer nations persists.
In fact, even as some affluent countries are already discussing the rollout of booster shots to their populations, the vast majority of people in developing countries – even frontline health workers – have still not received their first shot. The worst served are low-income nations which have received less than one per cent of vaccines administered so far.
Increasingly, a two-track pandemic is developing, with richer countries having access and poorer ones being left behind. Inequitable vaccine distribution is not only leaving untold millions of people vulnerable to the virus. It is also allowing deadly variants to emerge and ricochet back across the world.
As variants continue to spread, even countries with advanced vaccination programmes have been forced to reimpose stricter public health measures, and some have implemented travel restrictions. In turn, the ongoing pandemic is leading to deepening divergence in economic fortunes, with negative consequences for all.
It need not be this way. That is why we are calling for a new level of international support for – and implementation of – a stepped up, co-ordinated strategy, backed by new financing, to vaccinate the world.
A recent proposal from IMF staff puts forward a plan with clear targets, pragmatic actions, and at a feasible cost. It builds on and supports the ongoing work of WHO, its partners in the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator initiative and its global vaccine access programme Covax, as well as the work of the World Bank Group, the WTO and many others.
At an estimated $50 billion, it will bring the pandemic to an end faster in the developing world, reduce infections and loss of lives, accelerate the economic recovery and generate some $9 trillion in additional global output by 2025.
It is a win for all – while around 60 per cent of the gains will go to emerging markets and developing economies, the remaining 40 per cent will benefit the developed world. And this is without taking into account the inestimable benefits on people’s health and lives.
What does it entail? First, increasing our ambition and vaccinating more people faster: WHO and its Covax partners have set a goal of vaccinating approximately 30 per cent of the population in all countries by the end of 2021. But this can reach even 40 per cent through other agreements and surge investment, and at least 60 per cent by the first half of 2022.
To do so requires additional financing for low and middle-income countries, with a very significant proportion in the form of grants and concessional financing. To urgently get more shots in arms, doses need to be donated immediately to developing countries, synchronised with national vaccine deployment plans, including through Covax. Co-operation on trade is also needed to ensure free cross-border flows and increasing supplies of raw materials and finished vaccines.
Second, insuring against downside risks such as new variants that may necessitate booster shots. This means investing in additional vaccine production capacity by at least one billion doses, diversifying production to regions with little current capacity, sharing technology and knowhow, scaling up genomic and supply chain surveillance, and contingency plans to handle virus mutations or supply shocks.
All blockages to expanding supply must be removed, and we call on WTO members to accelerate negotiations towards a pragmatic solution around intellectual property. A number of low and middle-income countries are also making moves to invest in their own local manufacturing capacity, which is key not to just end this pandemic but to prepare for the next one.
Third, immediately boosting testing and tracing, oxygen supplies, therapeutic and public health measures, while ramping up vaccine deployment, and the ACT-Accelerator initiative. WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and Gavi have been conducting vaccine readiness assessments in over 140 developing countries, and providing on-the-ground support and financing to prepare for vaccine rollout.
What about the cost? Of the $50 billion, there is a strong case for grants of at least $35 billion. G20 governments have sent positive signals, recognising the importance of providing about $22 billion in additional funding for 2021 to the ACT-Accelerator.
Additional financing of about $13 billion is needed to boost vaccine supply in 2022 and further scale up testing, therapeutics and surveillance. The remainder of the overall financing plan – around $15 billion – could come from national governments supported by multilateral development banks, including the World Bank’s $12 billion financial facility for vaccination.
For the plan to work, there are two additional requirements – speed and coordination.
It calls for upfront financing, upfront vaccine donations and upfront precautionary investments and planning, rather than commitments that may be slow to materialise. It is essential that all of this is made available as soon as possible.
It also requires co-ordinated global action, grounded in full transparency in the procurement and delivery process. The success of the strategy depends on all parties – public, private, international financial institutions, foundations – moving in tandem.
Investing $50 billion to end the pandemic is potentially the best use of public money we will see in our lifetimes. It will pay a huge development dividend and boost growth and wellbeing globally. But the window of opportunity is closing fast – the longer we wait, the costlier it becomes in human suffering and in economic losses.
On behalf of our four organisations, we announce a new commitment to work together to scale up needed financing, boost manufacturing and ensure the smooth flow of vaccines and raw materials across borders to dramatically increase vaccine access to support the health response and economic recovery, and to bring needed hope.
Our institutions are stepping up to turn this hope into reality:
The IMF is preparing an unprecedented Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation to boost the reserves and liquidity of its members. The WHO is seeking to identify financing so that the urgent needs of its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan and the ACT-Accelerator partnership can be met, with Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) incentivising the sharing of know-how and technology.
The World Bank will have vaccine projects up and running in at least 50 countries by mid-year – with the International Finance Corporation working to mobilise the private sector to boost vaccine supply for developing countries. And the WTO is working on freeing up supply chains for the plan to succeed.
Ending the pandemic is a solvable problem that requires global action – now. Let’s all pull together and get the job done.
Kristalina Georgieva is Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund; Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the Director-General of the World Health Organisation; David Malpass is the President of the World Bank Group; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation