ROME – A world health summit that highlighted the growing disparity between rich and poor countries during the pandemic ended on Friday with pledges from pharmaceutical companies to deliver more than 1.3 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries this year.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, host of the Rome summit which brought together the Group of 20 and the executive arm of the European Union, called the contributions of private companies “significant and astounding”.
The pledges made include 1 billion doses from US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech’s, 200 million from Johnson & Johnson and 100 million from Moderna. They will be provided at cost for low income countries and low profit for middle income countries.
Pfizer and BioNTech have pledged an additional billion for next year, while European Union countries have pledged an additional 100 million doses for this year.
Many European deliveries will take place under the UN-backed COVAX program, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who co-hosted the summit. COVAX aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 injections for low- and middle-income countries.
Earlier this week, the program suffered a major setback when its largest supplier, the Serum Institute of India, announced it would likely no longer export vaccines until the end of the year due to the COVID crisis. -19 on the subcontinent.
The drug companies did not say whether their promises would be fulfilled under a particular umbrella.
But Draghi said the pledges made on Friday reflected to some extent “a desire to address injustices and inequalities when, in the most difficult times, some shut down and ignore the rest of the world.”
He and von der Leyen both expressed confidence that the promises would be honored.
“These companies have devoted their entire reputation to it. This is a very, very important decision that will really change the landscape, ”said Draghi, adding that international organizations like the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization would have a role to play in securing the commitments. .
Von der Leyen said the doses promised by European countries had been carefully considered, “so that we feel responsible and responsible”.
As vaccination campaigns continue to advance in the Western world, the poorest countries are struggling to obtain supplies. The United Nations Security Council expressed concern this week about the small number of doses reaching Africa.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week urged rich countries to donate their vaccines before vaccinating younger populations, including children. Experts warn that allowing the virus to spread unchecked all over the world could lead to the emergence of potentially dangerous variants.
At Friday’s World Health Summit in Rome, Draghi said nearly 1.5 billion doses of the vaccine had been administered in more than 180 countries around the world. Yet only 0.3% were in low-income countries, while richer countries administered around 85%.
“The differences in vaccination rates are staggering,” said the Italian leader. “Not only are these disparities unacceptable, but they also pose a threat as long as the virus continues to circulate freely around the world, it can mutate dangerously and undermine even the most successful vaccination campaign.”
To tackle inequalities and contain the pandemic, the head of the World Trade Organization said on the eve of the summit that it was also crucial to diversify the manufacture of vaccines and increase production in Africa and Latin America . The European Union has raised many of the points raised by WTO Director General Okonjo-Iweala, specifically seeking to increase manufacturing output in Africa.
“Today, Africa imports 99% of its vaccines, and that must change,” said EU executive von der Leyen. “And so, team Europe is launching an initiative with African partners to develop vaccine production in Africa. The initiative will develop a number of regional hubs spread across the continent and build on Team Europe’s comprehensive toolbox, comprising € 1 billion ($ 1.2 billion) of investment.
Despite a recent call from the United States to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines in order to increase supplies, summit attendees were to insist that intellectual property rights were an important tool in boosting vaccine production .
There is a lack of consensus among EU countries on a temporary waiver of patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines. EU officials have argued that waiving patents will not lead to any short-term or intermediate improvement and may even have a negative impact.
Draghi said Italy was open to the idea provided any waiver measures were “targeted and time-bound and did not undermine incentives for pharmaceutical companies to innovate.”