As Britain prepares to host the G7 club of wealthy nations on Friday under the chairmanship of Boris Johnson, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has proposed that 5% of its vaccines are sent to poorer countries, especially in Africa, as part of a “war of influence” with Russia and China over immunizations around the globe.
Johnson is expected to advance a parallel plan to cut the amount of time it takes to create vaccines, and may be unimpressed it has been upstaged by Macron.
The French proposal comes as G7 leaders face accusations they have collectively preordered more than 1.5bn vaccines above the amount their populations require and are being outmanoeuvred by the Russians and Chinese, who are already providing vaccines directly to poor countries while the wealthy west stores up a vast surplus.
Macron’s initiative acknowledges the perception that the west is ignoring the plight of the poor when in fact it is funding a complex plan to provide vaccines – but mainly at the turn of the year. Many of the vaccines that the international system is funding have yet to meet World Health Organization approval, and may not be suitable for distribution in remote rural areas.
Macron told the Financial Times: “We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and we are not starting in poor countries. It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it is paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines.
“You can see the Chinese strategy and the Russian strategy too.”
He said it was essential that pharmaceutical companies were more open about their technology, and allowed production to take place in Africa. He said that although intellectual property was essential for innovation, if the pharma companies did not do something “a debate would start on excess profits based on scarcity of vaccines”.
He proposed each country in Europe, and elsewhere should set aside a small amount of its vaccines for distribution in Africa. He said the idea had the backing of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and would not slow the delivery of vaccines within Europe.
He described the plan as a “test of multilateralism. It’s not about vaccine diplomacy. It’s not a power game, it’s a matter of public health.”
He argued that unless the vaccine was brought under control everywhere, the virus would mutate and return to Europe in new more virulent forms.
Johnson is expected to acknowledge the problem by vowing the UK will share the majority of any future surplus coronavirus vaccines from its supply to Covax, the procurement pool to support developing countries.
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