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Europe's economies race to look good

Although they refuse to finance the IMF's global vaccine plan, the world's richest economies compete on pledges to share out the shots

After it became clear that rich countries would get Covid-19 vaccines far faster than the global south having tied up all the procurement contracts last year, they started to out-pledge each other on vaccine donations (AC Vol 62 No 2, A scramble for vaccines).

Yet the rest of the world refuses to take their protestations of philanthropy seriously. This is partly due to the failure by the richest 20 economies (G20) to finance the International Monetary Fund's fully costed US$50 billion plan to vaccinate 40% of the population of all countries by the end of this year, and at least 60% by July 2022.

That vaccine coverage, according to the IMF's chief economist Gita Gopinath, would contain the pandemic and its variants across the global but also reboot the economies of the hardest-hit countries. If the plan were launched now, it would boost global output by $9 trillion by the end of 2025, most of the winnings going to G7 economies, the IMF calculates.

This week's agreement by the IMF board to endorse the issue of $650bn of its Special Drawing Rights offers the chance to finance that plan and put an end to the posturing.

Without such a boost to global vaccine distribution, the public health and economic effects of the pandemic could linger, even if multiplied with myriad variants, for several more years (AC Dispatches 22/02/21, Rich countries slowly accept the pitfalls of vaccine nationalism).

The glacial pace of vaccine delivery until now has been confirmed in a paper by the European Commission for its foreign ministers. The EU has so far donated just 7.9 million doses of Covid vaccines – 4% of the 200 million pledged by its 27 members. 

The finding embarrasses the European Commission spin machine, which has been in overdrive playing up the efforts of 'Team Europe', citing EU pledges worth €3.4 billion to Covax, the international vaccine authority, €100m more than the United States.

Last week, EU foreign affairs supremo Josep Borrell was uncharacteristically blunt about the shortfall, saying 'It's certainly insufficient'. He went on, 'The problem isn't just the commitment but the effectiveness.' He seemed mainly worried, however, about the harm this could do to Europe's image in Africa and Latin America and how China could profit from it. 'China's expansion in Africa and Latin America should concern us and should occupy us a great deal,' he added.

African states are also frustrated about the EU's opposition to waiving patent protection on vaccines, travel restrictions, and the EU's new Digital Covid Certificate for travellers wishing to enter the bloc, which currently does not recognise the Covishield vaccine distributed by Covax, and which is set to account for a large proportion of jabs in Africa (AC Vol 62 No 11, Parting on patents).

EU ambassador to the African Union (AU), Birgitte Markussen, and John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention issued a joint statement urging the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield, to apply for authorisation by the European Medicines Agency. Nineteen EU states have individually approved Covishield.

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