As world leaders gather in New York City for the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden is convening a virtual COVID-19 Summit aimed at remedying the grossly inequitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and helping bring the acute phase of the pandemic to a close.
About 80% of the citizens of high and upper-middle income countries have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. By contrast, just 1.8% of people in low income countries have received a dose. Of the 5.7 billion doses administered globally, only 2% have been in Africa.
The White House’s COVID-19 Summit comes as the COVAX facility - set up to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines - ramps up vaccine deliveries. Despite delays because of export restrictions, manufacturing scale-up challenges, the timing of regulatory approvals, and the monopolisation of vaccine supplies by wealthy countries, COVAX has now shipped nearly 300 million doses to 141 countries. And the pace is accelerating: COVAX expects to have delivered 1.2 billion doses to 92 lower-income countries by the end of the year. As Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley, who will be speaking at the Summit, recently said, “We’ve demonstrated that COVAX can work at scale, but it’s really time for the world to get behind it.”
Whether the world will get behind vaccine equity continues to be an urgent question, with some wealthy countries planning to roll out booster shots for their vaccinated citizens, meaning that some people will receive third doses before billions of vulnerable people receive their first.
Wednesday’s Summit promises to rally civil society, NGOs, philanthropists, industry and world leaders behind a common, equitable vision for defeating COVID-19. Here are three priorities the Biden administration will be asking Summit participants to back:
1. Vaccinating the World
By UNGA 2022 – that is, before September next year – 70% of countries in any national income bracket should be fully vaccinated. Among other things, that means asking well-resourced countries to close the financing and supply gaps currently holding back vaccine campaigns in lower income countries, and expediting delivery of the 2 billion previously committed doses. It also demands that regional and global vaccine production is strengthened, to secure medium- and longer-term availability.
2. Saving Lives Now
Saving lives now means making sure that hospitals have enough oxygen, access to good therapeutics, and enough PPE (personal protective equipment). It also means making sure that at least one in a thousand people are getting tested each week, with a target rate of less than 5% test positivity in all countries. Finally, it means boosting the global capacity to detect and monitor new variants, by enhancing genomic sequencing and information sharing.
3. Building Back Better
It’s vital to make sure the world is better prepared in the future. To contribute to the debate on pandemic preparedness, the US has suggested the creation of a global health security financial intermediary fund (FIF), and a Global Health Threats Council (GHTC), both in 2021.