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Germany warns against 'vaccine nationalism'

October 25, 2020

Nations must work in a spirit of cooperation rather than selfishness in the fight against coronavirus, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed. His appeal came at the start of the World Health Summit in Berlin.

Steinmeier warns against vaccine nationalism
Image: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/picture-alliance

Germany's president on Sunday urged nations to work together and avoid selfishness in working to tackle coronavirus — in particular when it comes to the development of an effective vaccine.

Steinmeier's message against "vaccine nationalism" came in a video appeal at the opening of the three-day World Health Summit in Berlin.

"No-one is safe from COVID-19; no-one is safe until we are all safe from it. Even those who conquer the virus within their own borders remain prisoners within these borders until it is conquered everywhere."

"If we don't want to live in a world after the pandemic in which the principle 'Everyone against each other and everyone for themselves' gains even more ground then we need the enlightened reason of our societies and our governments," said the president.

Steinmeier said the rapid spread of the virus had resulted in an enormous worldwide mobilization of resources and a growing spirit of ingenuity. However, he said the trend of nations reserving large quantities of vaccines for their populations could prove unhelpful.

Read more: Beating the coronavirus — Be quicker than your test

Frank-Walter Steinmeier
German President Frank-Walter SteinmeierImage: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa/picture-alliance

Instead, Steinmeier urged countries to work together to tackle the pandemic more effectively.

"COVID-19 challenges us all. The virus knows no borders. It is indifferent to the nationality of its victims. It will continue to overcome every barrier in the future if we do not confront it together. In the face of the virus, we are undoubtedly a global community. But the crucial question is: are we able to act as such?"

Steinmeier drew particular attention to the United States — the worst-affected country in the world with more than 225,000 deaths from more than 8.6 million cases. He urged Washington to join the COVAX initiative to help develop and distribute vaccinations for the coronavirus internationally.

"No country has been as lacking success in the efforts it has made so far as the United States of America," he said. "I therefore appeal to the next US government, whoever that may be from January 20, to join the COVAX initiative."

Steinmeier's comments were echoed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Read more: Germany commits €100 million amid UN vaccine access drive

"Developed countries must support health systems in countries that are short of resources," said Guterres, adding that the international community had been found wanting in its response to the virus. "The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest crisis of our age," he said.

Head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghenreyesus said the only way to recover from the pandemic was by making sure poorer countries had fair access to a vaccine. He also tweeted his support for Steinmeier's message.

"I hope the world hears President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's call for global solidarity to end the COVID-19 pandemic," the WHO chief wrote.

In her video address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she believed it was the bloc's duty to play a leading role.

"I believe this can be a test case for true global health compact. The need for leadership is clear and I believe the European Union must assume this responsibility."

Read more: Global race to buy coronavirus vaccine: What you need to know

Globally, more than 42 million people have been infected with the virus and more than a million have died of COVID-19.

Several dozen potential vaccines are currently being tested in clinical trials, with ten of those are in the most advanced "phase 3" stage. The EU, the US, Britain, Japan, and a number of other nations have already placed large orders with the companies involved.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.