The G7 leaders’ plan to donate coronavirus vaccines to low and middle-income countries is a sham.
At last weekend’s summit Boris Johnson and Joe Biden presented themselves as global saviours, announcing they’d respectively offer up 500 million and 100 million doses to the world’s poorest.
Overall the G7 committed to providing one billion doses of coronavirus jabs over the next year.
What terrible paucity of ambition.
The low-level plan will mean that over the course of the next 18 months millions more people, mostly in poorer countries, will be infected as they wait for vaccinations to arrive.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had challenged the G7 leaders to commit to vaccinating at least 70 percent of the world's population by the time they meet again next year. The WHO said that would need 11 billion doses.
There will be no meaningful coverage until the end of next year—if then.
Many will face serious illness and death because the health systems in their countries cannot cope.
The scenes from India of people searching desperately for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders for sick relatives will be repeated again and again, in country after country.
But it does not have to be this way. Vaccinating the world far more quickly could happen If all the world’s major economic powers came together to throw all their resources at the biggest threat to human existence for more than a century.
It would mean abolishing all patents and intellectual property rights related to coronavirus vaccines and Covid-19 treatments.
Research by the charity Oxfam shows that this would enable all of the world’s developing countries to be vaccinated for just £4.6 billion.
But keeping the patents will mean the cost is a whopping £56 billion.
“Without a waiver, we would effectively be spending up to ten times more than we need to in order to get enough doses,” an Oxfam spokesperson said. “Much of this will be money that will go directly into the pockets of the shareholders of these companies”.
In addition, a global network of manufacturing sites for the most effective vaccines must be created. Big pharmaceutical firms insist that only they have the knowledge and skills required to manufacture complex vaccines.
That knowledge must be spread immediately, and if Big Pharma is resistant, all the key firms should be brought under state control to make it happen.
“Vaccines belong to everyone. Everyone must have equal access,” demanded Fiona Uellendahl from the World Vision children’s charity.
“You can’t let pharmaceutical companies decide who gets vaccines.”
She insists the argument that developing countries cannot build up production fast enough is a “myth”.
She adds that there is “a lot of very good infrastructure”, even in poor countries, to produce vaccines.
With already some 4 million people dead, the cost of not acting could be horrendous.
Millions of people in poorer countries will die unnecessary deaths. And the virus will be given space in which it can grow and continue to mutate into new, and potentially more dangerous, strains.
The Delta variant that is now the dominant strain in Britain emerged in India because the huge unvaccinated population there stood no chance against the virus.
Now, that strain—which is at least 60 percent more infective, and more resistant to vaccines— threatens a new wave of infections in Britain. It will doubtless spread to other countries too.
When seen in this light, Britain’s paltry offer of 500 million shots is a drop in the ocean.
Alex Harris of the Wellcome Foundation was right when he attacked the G7 plan.
“What the world needs is vaccines now, not later this year,” he said. "We urge G7 leaders to raise their ambition.”
But the failure of world leaders to come together with a genuine global vaccination plan is not simply a reflection of our inept ruling classes.
It is a sign of just how warped the priorities of the G7’s system are.
What really stands in the way of the emergency measures needed is neither lack of technology nor lack of resources. It is the global system of capitalism that subordinates all life to the pursuit of profit. The G7 leaders lord over that.