Richest democracies say vaccine access is global issue but can’t agree how best to share

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French President Emmanuel Macron urged the United States and Europe to quickly send 13 million vaccine doses to Africa to vaccinate front-line health workers, arguing that the West can spare less than 1 percent of its supply to earn “credibility” and counter growing vaccine outreach by Moscow and Beijing.

Macron’s remarks came shortly after a virtual Group of Seven meeting during which President Biden and other leaders promised more money — but no actual doses — to help countries that have been left behind in the race to acquire vaccines.

Wealthy nations have snapped up nearly all the early supply, leaving everyone else to wait. Macron argued for directly sharing a fraction of the rich nations’ vaccine doses rather than merely promising money.

“If we, Europeans and Americans, can deliver these 13 million doses as soon as possible, it’s hugely worth it, and it’s worth it for our credibility,” he said.

“If we announce billions today to give doses in six months or a year, our African friends will buy doses from Chinese, Russians,” he continued. “The power of the West will be a concept but not reality.”

Macron’s call for quick, direct action is a nudge to other countries, such as the United States, that are putting money into global initiatives such as the international Covax program but have no immediate plans to share doses secured for domestic use.

Covax — jointly run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations — is an effort to pool resources to develop and equitably distribute vaccines. It aims to distribute 2 billion doses in 2021 — significant but a fraction of what is needed.

On Friday, the White House announced that the United States will put $4 billion into the effort, reversing a Trump-era decision to opt out. The European Union, Germany and Canada also said they would increase their initial pledges to the program.

The funding is badly needed but won’t quickly solve the supply crunch caused by the rich world’s voluminous buying.

“Vaccines are a limited resource,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a speech Friday. “We must use them as effectively as we can.”

Several countries, including Britain and Canada, have talked about donating surplus vaccine doses, possibly through Covax, but have yet to lay out timelines.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to directly answer a question about Macron’s earlier call for rich countries to donate 5 percent of the doses they have already ordered, saying his country would focus on vaccinating Canadians first.

“We know there is still much more to do in Canada,” he said, “but absolutely once we’ve vaccinated the most vulnerable, we should also look at the most vulnerable around the world.”

Rauhala reported from Washington, Birnbaum from Riga, Latvia, and Coletta from Toronto.

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