Letters & Opinion

Will the G7 Summit Bring Higher Hopes for Caribbean and Developing Nations?

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

This weekend’s G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall (June 11-13) will see host Prime Minister Boris Johnson use the Presidency from Friday to Sunday, to try to unite members around common issues affecting their COVID-hit economies.

But above all, they’ll be forced to pay more attention to the global COVID-19 challenge this time around, over a million people having died the world over since they last met a year ago.

Other G7 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – are not as advanced as the USA and UK, in their respective levels of population vaccination.

But together, the G7 and European Union (EU) have enough vaccines stockpiled to vaccinate their entire populations several times over.

Now, they’re being called-upon to talk less and do more to help developing countries by donating vaccines, removing barriers to faster and more equitable distribution worldwide and for multinational pharmaceutical corporations in member-states to release on patent restrictions to allow developing countries to produce vaccines faster and locally.

The leaders of the world’s richest nations will also be under intense pressure to respond to US President Joe Biden’s Vaccine Diplomacy, through which he’s indicated the US will donate 13% of its vaccine over-supplies (80 million) to other countries by the end of June, release US restrictions on export of raw materials for vaccine manufacturing abroad and support the calls for relaxation of patent rights.

G7 nations control 58% of global wealth (US $317 Trillion), over 66% of global economic output, 46% of global GDP (based on nominal values) and 32% of global GDP (based on purchasing power parity).

G7 and EU nations control 62% of global wealth, among them the ten countries that have purchased 75% of all vaccines produced worldwide to date.

Vaccination levels are between 40% and 50% of the population in the UK and the USA is aiming for 70% by July 4; and EU states have an average of 30%, but with enough on order to safely take them into 2024.

However, most developing countries (including in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean) are between 1% and 2% — and despite African Union (AU) member-states having bought 220 million one-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccines, that’s still just a drop in the ocean of Africa’s overall vaccine needs.

China, the world’s most populous nation, is vaccinating at a rate of 20 million per day and aims to have 40% of its population vaccinated by the end of June, 15 months after the pandemic started.

In India, the second most populated nation, only 10% were expected to have received their first vaccination doses by the end of May, with assessments it would take another two years – at that slow rate — to vaccinate the remaining 90%.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the entire world could have been vaccinated by now, if only the rich countries had adhered to arrangements for equitable global distribution through its COVAX scheme.

But COVAX is now still short by over 200 million doses and if vaccines aren’t produced more widely and delivered more quickly, millions more will die who can be saved.

The WHO calls for more countries to join the USA, which is the biggest contributor ($4 Billion) to COVAX under Biden, after Trump pulled the US out and withdrew its $400 million annual donation.

China, which has donated more vaccines to Africa than COVAX, has also donated 10 million vaccines to COVAX, just after one of its coronavirus vaccines was also approved by the WHO for emergency use.

The US says it’s ready to share more from its hoarded stockpiles of Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, starting with AztraZeneca supplies. Pfizer and Moderna have also belatedly promised to provide two billion doses to developing countries by the end of 2021.

But while welcome, the vaccines promised will take at least two months to be delivered — while 70% of the world’s population continues to wait in uncertainty after a full year of insufficient and irregular deliveries.

With new virus variants being discovered at rates that still make their future very uncertain, G7 and EU nations continue to look inward, raising drawbridges and building border walls while ducking calls to share vaccines and technology with developing countries.

But they’ve all been roundly criticized by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who noted on June 7 (on the eve of the launch of his new book ‘Seven Ways to Change the World’) that ‘The world has the vaccines and the science to cure itself, but the leaders lack the political will.’

In addition, UNICEF says G7 and EU nations can donate 20% of their overstocked supplies in June, July and August – which would make over 150 million doses available for developing countries.

Of the 1.5 billion vaccine doses administered worldwide, only just over or about 1% of African and Caribbean populations have received their first jab over a year after the pandemic was declared.

Prime Minister Johnson will be seeking to steer the G7 out of the COVID crisis at a time when the world is hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

He will be haunted by the stinging criticism of his former chief advisor Dominic Cummings, who told a recent inquiry he blamed his former boss for the ‘systemic failures’ that led to much of the ‘chaos and indecision’ that prevented the British government from responding positively, early enough.

Cummings said Johnson and his Cabinet underestimated the danger and placed over-confidence in ‘Herd Immunity’ propositions, which altogether resulted in many deaths that could have been avoided, accusing Johnson of having the blood of British COVID death victims on his hands because he responded too late, did too little and didn’t take enough time to learn from the experiences and early-action responses of China, Taiwan and Singapore.

The pressure will also be on Johnson and his peers to respond to the loud call by India and South Africa – supported by the World Trade Organization (WTO) — for the pharmaceutical companies in the G7 states to temporarily lift restrictions associated with their patent rights.

G7 nations had indeed supported calls for equity in vaccine distribution back in early May, with concerns also expressed later about ‘risk management’ and ‘risk avoidance’.

But with the death clock ticking and the WHO warning overall numbers can be at least three times higher and closer to 8 million than the 3.5 million officially registered presently – also recently confirmed by Peru – the pressure will be on for the G7 nations to do more, much quicker to help make the rest of the world safe, from the standpoint that until the entire world is safe, nowhere will be safe from COVID-19 in 2021 or beyond.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — with a population of 18 million — and Latin America (with a combined population of 665 million), will definitely be looking forward to receiving their fair share(s) of the six million doses Washington has promised to deliver by the end of this month.

But wealth and size being main yardsticks in measuring purchase and accumulation, access and distribution of vaccines, Caribbean and African countries can expect that while Friday’s summit opening will be loaded with fine words and bright promises, the devil, as always, will be in the details that’ll follow the usual wordy communique following the summit’s end on Sunday.

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