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Rich countries put a price on their delayed vaccine programmes

After failing to back the IMF's $50 billion vaccine plan, G20 countries are trying to make their aid programmes look more generous

Successive attempts to get the rich countries of the G7 and G20 to agree on a plan to vaccinate most of the world against Covid-19 have ended in acrimony this year with the biggest economies choosing to announce unilateral initiatives. And they have failed to address some of the serious logistical problems, running the risk of a massive waste of vaccines.

They have failed to respond to Gordon Brown, former prime minister of Britain and now vaccine envoy for the World Health Organization, whose team calculated that there are over 200 million surplus vaccine doses in North America and Europe, many of which would expire by the end of this year.

Part of the problem, argued Brown, is the failure by G20 countries to back a programme coordinating distribution, such as the $50bn plan launched by the IMF and WHO in May.

Civil society activists and some opposition politicians have been accusing western governments of allowing 'vaccine nationalism' to slow the delivery of the promised Covid-19 vaccine donations. Now, G20 and other industrialised countries are risking another public relations own goal after they agreed to count vaccine doses as Official Development Assistance (ODA), starting in 2020.

This means that those countries, such as Britain, which have been cutting their foreign aid budgets in real terms will be able to claim they are financing a massive aid boost. They can do this by showing, in statistical terms at least, that they are switching resources into an international vaccine distribution programme which will be counted as part of their foreign aid budgets.

Donor countries on the Paris–based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)'s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) are expected to agree on the price which they will set for each vaccine dose by the end of the year.

The latest proposed tariff on the DAC table is a price per vaccine dose of $6.72, more than double an earlier proposal of $3 per dose. Civil society groups estimate that this would increase, in notional terms at least, the internationally-agreed value of the ODA of the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada by around $10bn in the next two years.

DAC members differ, Africa Confidential understands, on the price per vaccine. Some would like the pricing to differentiate between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, on one hand, and the AstraZeneca doses, on the other.

Italy and Belgium are happy with the price, while Sweden is in a group which would like differential pricing to reflect the fact that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are more expensive than the AstraZeneca.

Britain is considering whether to use some of its allocation of the IMF's special issue of Special Drawing Rights this year to count as part of its foreign aid budget. Britain was allocated the equivalent of $27.5bn out of the IMF's $650bn global issue of SDRs.

There is nothing new about donor states being creative in how they categorise aid spending. In previous years spending on migration control, loans, and military support have all helped nudge donors towards meeting the international 0.7% Gross National Income (GNI) target (AC Vol 61 No 16, From debt to aid).

Britain, in particular, came under fire ahead of its hosting of the UN's COP26 climate summit this month for cutting budgets for programmes to help developing countries mitigate or adapt to climate change.

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