G7 health chiefs discuss vaccine sharing and animal diseases

A veterinarian team checks the dead bodies of wild elephants, suspected to have been killed by lightning, on a hillside in Nagaon district of Assam state. – AFP

OXFORD, UK: Health ministers from the G7 group of wealthy nations met yesterday in Britain to discuss sharing vaccines with poorer countries, as calls continue to ensure fairer global distribution of doses. The meeting in Oxford in southern England comes ahead of next week’s G7 summit, hosted by the United Kingdom, which is set to be dominated by discussion of the coronavirus pandemic and recovery plans. “We’ll be working together with G7 partners to try to meet the objective that a vaccine is made available right across the world,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters.

“After all, this is a global pandemic and nobody is safe from it until everybody is safe,” he added. The G7 gathering was also set to focus on improving identification of animal-borne infections, given three-fifths of all infections jump from animals to humans. The ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States vowed to “combat future health threats by working together to identify early warning signs from animals and the environment”. “There will be more diseases that cross that boundary from animals to humans,” Hancock added.

“We must be better prepared as a world in the future and that is something that is very much on the table in the discussions.” The world’s wealthiest countries face growing pressure to do more to help vaccines reach poorer countries, which do not have enough stocks for comprehensive inoculation programs. The G7 countries are already committed to support the Covax global vaccine sharing program.

Strategy scrutiny
However, UNICEF warned last month that the program will find itself 190 million doses short of what it had planned to distribute, and called on the G7 and European Union to do more. Meanwhile in a joint rallying cry this week the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO) urged the G7 to agree a “stepped-up coordinated strategy” on vaccines.

France in April become the first country to donate doses from its domestic supply to Covax, with an initial commitment of 500,000 doses. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday President Joe Biden will announce within days plans to export 80 million shots to other countries “without any political strings attached”.

Although Britain-which has ordered more than 400 million doses of various vaccines-has pledged the bulk of its excess doses to Covax, Hancock said it was not yet ready to donate its extra jabs. “We don’t have any excess doses,” he added, noting over half a billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had been released for supply globally. “But absolutely, we want to lean into this global effort when there is spare capacity.”

At a G7 finance ministers meeting in London on Friday, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva will present a relatively low-cost plan to expand vaccination access. The plan, developed with the WHO and WTO, calls for a financial commitment of $50 billion-far less than the massive stimulus programs rolled out by some rich nations. – AFP


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