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Global organizations pitch plan for vaccine equity

Jon Shelton
June 1, 2021

The heads of the WHO, IMF, WTO and World Bank warn vaccine inequality is prolonging the coronavirus pandemic. Ending the crisis, they say, "requires global action now."

AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine being delivered to Ethiopia by the UN-led COVAX initiative
Though rich countries have pledged help in providing access to vaccines only about 1% of the world's poor have gotten a jabImage: Amanuel Sileshi/AFP

"Ending the pandemic is possible — and requires global action now," the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) wrote in a jointly penned op-ed in Tuesday's Washington Post newspaper.

In their appeal, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Bank President David Malpas and WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on wealthy G7 nations to help "vaccinate the world."

The authors argued that new strains of the deadly virus seen in outbreaks across the developing world are a result of vaccine inequality, writing: "It has become abundantly clear that there will be no broad-based recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic without an end to the health crisis. Access to vaccination is key to both."

The IMF advertised its pitch to end the problem in a tweet calling for "a new commitment with a $50 billion (€41) investment to ensure vaccine equity and end the pandemic everywhere."

G7 leaders to discuss vaccine access

The authors presented a clear proposal to world leaders ahead of next week's 47th annual G7 summit at the upscale British resort town of Carbis Bay in Cornwall (June 11-13), saying funding, production diversification, and technology and know-how sharing were all required to defeat the virus.

They argued: "The ongoing pandemic is deepening divergence in economic fortunes, with negative consequences for all," but lay out the benefits of a G7 commitment to counter that deadly negative trend.

Money, morals, lip service and inaction when it comes to vaccines

Equal access to coronavirus vaccine has been championed by global organizations from the start of the pandemic, and wealthy nations have publicly touted their sense of fairness and generosity with regularity, yet the stark reality is an imbalance that the WHO has labeled "grotesque." WHO boss Tedros, for instance, has implored wealthy countries to donate extra doses to poorer countries rather than vaccinating children and adolescents.

The global COVAX program, designed to make vaccines available to everyone, has so far lost out to wealthy nations who have cornered the world's supply of coronavirus vaccines. G7 leaders spoke of the issue of access equality while meeting in London last month to prepare for next week's summit, restating pledges of financial solidarity, yet no concrete proposals for improving funding and distribution were announced.    

Coronavirus vaccine distribution: 'A shocking imbalance'

To date, roughly 1.9 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered worldwide, the vast majority in wealthy nations. In April, WHO Director-General Tedros said, "There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines."

Wealthy countries have come under criticism not only for hoarding vaccines but also many of the key materials required to produce them. Tuesday's op-ed made that point clear, stating: "Some affluent countries are already discussing the rollout of booster shots to their populations, but the vast majority of people in developing countries — even front-line health workers — have still not received their first shot. Low-income nations have received less than 1% of vaccines administered so far."

Unequal global vaccination