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G7 states boost global vaccination rollout

February 20, 2021

The world's richest countries have promised more money to buy vaccines for the global poor. US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has signaled his support for multilateralism, ending Trump's unilateralist era.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural in Iran
COVAX is aiming to purchase 2 billion vaccine doses for 92 low- and middle-income economiesImage: Ahmad Halabisaz/dpa/Xinhua/picture alliance

Speaking to G7 leaders via video on Friday, US President Joe Biden pledged his country would contribute $4 billion (€3.3 billion) to fund the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine for poorer nations — doubling the amount of money initially projected.

The funds signaled a return to multilateralism for Washington, which under former President Donald Trump had left the World Health Organization (WHO) and refused to join the international UN-lead COVAX initiative.

Biden promised cooperation not only on vaccines but in many other areas — among them climate protection, security and trade. One EU diplomat involved in organizing G7 summits told DW that while both sides wouldn't necessarily agree on all policy issues, the US and the EU were finally back to reaching compromises and talking to each other like "civilized people."

Merkel sees hope for multilateralism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also promised greater funding for COVAX, with Berlin set to increase its contribution by €1.5 billion.

"It's clear that the G7 summit is once again giving multilateralism a chance," said Merkel said after the virtual conference, adding that the Biden administration would lend further momentum to multilateral initiatives. "For me, that is very satisfying."

The European Commission, meanwhile, promised to double its contribution to €1 billion. But the WHO has warned that it is still far from reaching its funding target, and is hoping wealthy nations will pledge further financial support.

COVAX is aiming to purchase 2 billion vaccine doses for 92 low- and middle-income economies by the end of the year, and intends to make its first vaccine deliveries in the coming days. The goal is to inoculate at least 20% of national populations, with high-risk groups and medical staff taking priority.

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged richer countries, which so far have secured the lion's share of vaccine doses, to donate their surplus supplies to poorer nations and ensure equal access to inoculations. Tedros also criticized China and Russia for disregarding the COVAX program and distributing vaccines throughout Africa and Latin America, in an attempt to score political points.

G7 nations to donate spare doses?

Speaking at the virtual conference, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested 4 to 5% of vaccine doses acquired by the EU could be donated to needy nations. Merkel also signaled an openness to the idea, yet said no concrete time frame had been agreed. She insisted that Germany's vaccination drive would continue as planned.

To date, the EU has acquired around 2.8 billion vaccine doses from six different pharmaceutical companies — more doses than COVAX plans to distribute to the world's poorest 92 nations.

EU Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer stressed that receiving and distributing vaccine doses in Europe were the key concerns at this stage; European citizens would likely have little sympathy for vaccines being donated to non-EU countries at this time. Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also reiterated that vaccinating their own citizens remained at the top of the agenda.

This article has been translated from German.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union