New pledges at global summit target COVID vaccine gap

Young mom getting COVID vaccine
Young mom getting COVID vaccine

UNICEF Ethiopia, Tewodros Tadesse / Flickr cc

At the G20 Global Health Summit in Italy today, world leaders and drug companies announced major commitments to boost the supply of COVID vaccine for low- and middle-income countries, but stopped short of endorsing a full waiver of vaccine patent rights.

So far, about 1.59 billion vaccine doses have been given worldwide, about 84% of it deployed in higher-income countries, according to the New York Times. The summit today, hosted by the European Commission and Italy, comes as the vaccine gap becomes more acute, with supplies expected from India delayed due to the country's catastrophic surge.

Countries agree on principles for ending pandemic

At today's summit, the G20 countries agreed on common principles for ending the pandemic, with the approval of the Rome Declaration. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, said on Twitter, "This means no export bans, keeping global supply chains open, and working to extend capacity everywhere. If we live up to these principles, the world will be better prepared for a pandemic."

The group supported voluntary licensing and technology transfers, but didn't reach a consensus on a pharmaceutical waiver of vaccine patent rights, according to Reuters. The step was first suggested by South Africa and India and supported by the United States, but the World Trade Organization would need to negotiate the waiver, which could take months.

Among major announcements to boost supply, the European Commission pledged to secure 1.3 billion vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries.  The total includes 1 billion from the 2 billion doses announced by Pfizer-BioNTech today, 200 million from Johnson & Johnson, and 100 million from Moderna. European officials also announced that that they would invest €

1 billion ($1.218 billion) to build vaccine production hubs in Africa.

Also at the event today, Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla announced that the company would provide 2 billion doses to low- and middle-income countries over the next 18 months, according to CNN.

In a related development today, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, announced an advance purchase agreement with Johnson & Johnson for 200 million doses of its vaccine for the COVAX program, which is designed to provide equitable access.

Following the summit today, the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the commitments and said it would work with countries to rapidly operationalize them for over 100 million doses of scarce vaccine, though a significant funding gap still remains.

"Global solidarity against COVID-19 isn't just the right thing to do. It's the fastest and most effective way to defeat the pandemic and get all our lives and economies back to normal," the WHO said.

More global headlines

  • Across five Indian states, health officials have reported more than 3,000 cases of mucormycosis, a potential fatal fungal lung infection, in COVID patients, according to CNN. Most are from Maharashtra state. Meanwhile, India's cases today topped 26 million and daily deaths again rose above 4,000.

  • Neighboring Nepal is also experiencing a similar surge, and the United States yesterday announced that it has sent its first shipment of critical equipment, part of assistance that now totals $50 million.

  • Argentina yesterday announced that it would tighten its lockdown until May 31, due to ongoing record cases and deaths, according to Reuters.

  • United Kingdom officials said yesterday that the number of B1617.2 SARS-CoV-2 variant cases rose sharply over the past week, from 2,111 to 3,424. Most cases are concentrated in the North West and in London, but clusters involving the variant have been detected across the whole country.

  • In Asia, an International Olympic Committee official said today that the Tokyo Summer Games will proceed, even if the city is still under a state of emergency due to COVID circulation, according to Reuters. And in Vietnam, federal officials are pushing two provinces—Bac Giang and Bac Ninh—to double down on their COVID measures to avoid disruptions in industrial production for major companies such as Samsung and Foxconn. According to Reuters, COVID clusters have been reported in workers at some factories.

  • The global total today rose to 165,520,500 cases, with at least 3,428,800 deaths, according to the New York Times

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