The group comprising the world's seven wealthiest countries-the so-called G7-from its recently held summit in Cornwall, Southwest England, pledged one billion doses of vaccine for the poorer countries. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, proudly called it 'a big step towards vaccinating the world'. But the outgoing UN's aid chief Mark Lowcock, who is a British citizen, on the other hand, termed G7's promise to provide one billion doses of vaccine over the next year 'a small step'. He even criticised the world's wealthiest nations for their failure to agree on a plan to vaccinate the world. According to him, if anything, the rich countries' approach to such an urgent issue like reaching vaccines to the populations of the low- and middle-income countries is not a consistent, but a sporadic one. And the amount of vaccine they committed will be able to vaccinate only 10 per cent population of the low and middle income economies, perhaps by the next year or by the middle of the year after. In a similar vein, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tadros Ghebreyessus, stressed that the countries experiencing a surge in corona infection are in a dire need for vaccines at the moment and they need the vaccine now!
South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, on the other hand, said that the promised vaccine would finally stand at half a billion doses considering that a full vaccination would require two shots for each person. Even so, the G7 leaders expect that one billion doses of vaccines will cover the most vulnerable 20 per cent people of every country of the world.
From the G7 summit the British prime minister further claimed that the world at large was looking up to them for the kind of leadership that would reject selfish and nationalistic approaches that lay behind spoiling the initial global response to the pandemic and that they would channel all their diplomatic, economic and scientific might to defeat Covid for good. This is undoubtedly a lofty promise held out before the less privileged, vaccine-deprived people of the world. But how are the leadership of these rich and highly industrialised nations going to deliver on their promise? The question arises because though the pandemic is spreading fast in the form of waves among the peoples everywhere and at the same time it is constantly mutating giving rise to new variants, some of which have proved to be of higher transmissibility, there is still no concrete action in sight among the world leaders to make the vaccines available to poorer nations. One wonders when will they get the vaccines and how many more years will be required to vaccinate a significant portion of the global population. To be frank, considering the actual pace of work on the ground, the G7 leaders' promise sounds rather hollow. In fact, the very approach of donating vaccines and delivering those to the end users through the World Health Organisation (WHO) or by other means is at best time-consuming and quite uncertain at worst. Consider, in this context, that, according to WHO, 11 billion doses of the vaccines will be required to inoculate 70 per cent of the world population. Once this level of vaccination is reached, one can say that the transmission of the virus has been controlled to a considerable degree. But in the present situation, that is a rather tall order to meet.
So, the best option would be to allow the least developed and developing countries, who have the necessary infrastructure, to produce vaccines themselves. What would be necessary at this point is to waive the intellectual property protection for the corona virus vaccines. Such measure would boost the global supply of vaccines. The idea was strongly backed by the US president Joe Biden. However, the UK prime ministered is dismissed the suggestion. In truth, the G7 leaders, except the US president, were only echoing the vaccine producing companies' stand that the patent waiver would undermine innovation, and not help the cause of ensuring prompt supply of the vaccines.
This brings one to the reality that when some pharmaceutical companies began to churn out vaccines against the corona virus in 2021, the world was split into vaccine 'haves' and vaccine 'have-nots'. According to a report in the Washington Post, 45 per cent of all vaccine doses administered so far have gone to 16 per cent of the world's population. And the report goes on to quote the World Bank which thinks such vaccine recipients are from high-income countries. But how did that happen? One may remember at this point that last year, the rich European and North American countries had booked in advance huge quantities of the shots from the vaccine producing companies. Obviously, such a selfish move on the wealthy nations' part was at cross purposes with the WHO's Covax programme of equitably distributing anti-Covid vaccines among the world's populations. Small wonder that the rich nations who bought large quantities of the early doses of the vaccines are successfully going ahead with their programme to inoculate their populations against the corona virus. The populations of some 92 poorest countries, on the other hand, will be waiting for how long no one knows to get themselves vaccinated.
Ironically, the rich nations' decision to stock large amounts of the vaccines for themselves before any other country could access those flies in the face of the lofty G7 promises! Moreover, they cannot hope to keep their populations secure for long leaving the rest of the world insecure.
To prove their sincerity, the G7 nations should change their stance on intellectual property right for the Covid-19 vaccines and allow different countries who have the capacity to produce vaccines.