Shameful: G7 missed the chance to tackle vaccine crisis, say faith leaders

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Image credit: RMC

By Lianne Kolirin

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has criticised the G7 over the “missed opportunity” to tackle the international vaccine crisis.

Last week’s summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, was the first opportunity for the Group of Seven nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States — to meet since the pandemic began. Top of the agenda was global trade, strengthening the international system against future pandemics and tackling global climate change.

During an online seminar with the Religion Media Centre last week, Lord Williams called upon the group’s leaders to improve poorer nations’ access to Covid-19 vaccines

However, a joint communiqué issued by the G7 on Monday fell far short of campaigners’ expectations. It pledged to “end the pandemic and prepare for the future by driving an intensified international effort, starting immediately, to vaccinate the world by getting as many safe vaccines to as many people as possible as fast as possible”.

While G7 promised to distribute a billion doses of the vaccine to poorer nations, it rejected calls to boost global supply by waiving patents for vaccines. Allowing the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights, campaigners say, would have enabled developing nations to produce their own vaccines instead of waiting for handouts from richer nations.

Lord Williams, who was Archbishop of Canterbury 2002 to 2012 and is now chairman of Christian Aid, said: “While any steps towards enhancing the worldwide accessibility of vaccines are to be welcomed, the overall response of the G7 meeting to the current situation was frustrating and disappointing. There was no commitment on the waiving of intellectual property rights and no clear common strategy on meeting the existing shortfall in funding accessible vaccines.

“More disappointing was the missed opportunity to address health, environmental and economic issues for poorer nations in a joined-up way — with new and time-specific commitments on funding environmentally friendly adjustments in the economies of disadvantaged countries, and a radical common approach to debt cancellation.

“This summit shows we are still a good way off the degree of seriousness and focus necessary for tackling the challenges faced by all our nations. We have yet to see the leadership we need.”

Christian Aid is responding to the pandemic in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean by working together with partners and faith leaders to inform people about the risks, offering vital hygiene training, equipping health facilities with supplies, and providing food packages to the marginalised.

Patrick Watt, Christian Aid’s director of policy, public affairs and campaigns, said the summit had offered the world’s richest nations the chance “to tackle the perfect storm of the pandemic, the climate emergency, and the debt crisis that is hitting the world’s poorest people hardest”.

But talk of a green version of the Marshall Plan — the post-war US initiative that helped to rebuild Europe — was never put into practice, he said.

“This is a partial plan not a Marshall Plan. The US committed 6.5 per cent of its post-war GDP to the Marshall Plan. The UK, in contrast, has reneged on an aid promise one-tenth as ambitious. The G7 needed to progress comprehensive debt relief, deliver on climate finance promises, and act to end vaccine apartheid.

“The G7 leadership has failed to make real progress in any of these areas. The success of the Cop26 climate summit now hangs in the balance. There is still time for rich nations to deliver a solidarity package that tackles these interconnected crises. Without it, the [climate change conference] will fail,” Mr Watt said.

Fr Augusto Zampini, a key adviser to Pope Francis, told last week’s RMC seminar that the stark contrast between the successful vaccine rollout in the West and the poor access in the developing world was a “moral scandal”.

Speaking today about the G7 communiqué, he told the RMC: “There are some things that we can be grateful about. But what about enabling people to become artisans of their own destiny, helping countries to make their own vaccines by temporarily waiving intellectual property rights?”

Such a move would have stopped countries in the developing world from falling deeper into debt, Fr Zampini said.

“This crisis is too big and the opportunities too unique to miss. Rich countries have a moral obligation to help other people get vaccinated. If we don’t vaccinate the majority of humanity, we won’t get out of this crisis.”

Shahin Ashraf, head of global advocacy at Islamic Relief Worldwide, described G7’s limited achievement as “shameful”.

Calling for a “clear action plan to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022,” Ms Ashraf said: “This will require a commitment to waive intellectual property rights and get the vaccine to everyone who needs it. Nobody should be unable to access a vaccine because they are too poor or because of where they were born.

“In the face of this unprecedented challenge, many pharmaceutical companies have received significant taxpayer support to carry out research. They should put people before vast profits and share the knowledge and intellectual property rights for vaccine formulae, so that production can be safely increased around the world.”

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod) said that while the billion doses would help to provide immunity for some, “it falls woefully short of what is needed and is nowhere near the G7 pledge to ‘vaccinate the world by getting as many safe vaccines to as many people as possible as fast as possible’.”

Vaccine access, the charity says, “has been hampered due to control of vaccine production by rich countries and companies”, while the G7 also failed to tackle the climate emergency.

Cafod’s director, Christine Allen, said: “It is clear the G7 leaders have not adequately heard the voices of the world’s poor in relation to vaccines and climate finance. If Boris Johnson believes that ‘global Britain’ is a force for good, then he needs to show by his actions the moral imperative to take urgent action for a fairer, greener and just world.”

Last week Pfizer announced it would provide the US government, at a not-for-profit price, 500 million doses of the companies’ Covid-19 vaccine — 200 million doses this year and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022, “to further support the multilateral efforts to address the surge of infection in many parts of the world and to help end the pandemic”.

The plan is that the Biden administration will then distribute them to “low and lower middle-income countries and organisations”, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla revealed at the Cornwall summit last week.

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