That still means they fell about 10 billion doses short.
The world is in a tight race between vaccinations and variants. Deaths in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America are soaring, yet only about 2 percent of Africans have been vaccinated. If developed countries cannot help southern continents stem this plague, they will risk the transmission of new variants, more rounds of closures and frustrated citizens who will retaliate in elections. Much of the world will falter further, deepening divides and narrowing the base for economic recovery.
The G-7 strategy must go beyond merely promising vaccines. An updated plan for the next four months, leading to the late-October Group of 20 Summit in Rome needs four offensives: vaccine production, distribution, financing and biosecurity preparation for future outbreaks. The World Health Organization does not have the capacity to meet these challenges, and the well-intentioned Covax, a worldwide initiative to globally distribute vaccines, cannot get the job done.
First, although governments and private companies have swiftly created vaccines, they still need to ramp up production for billions of doses — and then booster shots — for developing countries. The G-7 and its partners must help drug manufacturers to expand production. As Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics has detailed, ramped up production will stretch existing supply chains for vaccine production: cellular materials, vials, pumps, filters and bioreactor bags. The United States should lead an effort to coordinate subsidies for these items, disclose supply chains to avoid bottlenecks and hoarding, and prevent export bans.
Developed economies should assure financing for improved vaccines that are easier to manufacture and administer. Every region and country needs to plan to receive vaccines as soon as possible, which an alliance of the World Bank, the WHO and the G-7 should monitor and repair when inevitable breakdowns occur.
Second, distribution is just as important as production and poses special challenges in developing countries. Many African countries have a basic infrastructure for vaccinations because of their experience with other infectious diseases; some even have cold storage facilities for livestock vaccinations. Developed countries should work with African nations to build upon these foundations. The G-7 should enlist the World Bank and regional development banks to check and strengthen each country’s health delivery system and target flare-ups speedily.
When motivated, the United States can mobilize unparalleled logistics systems. The Biden administration should be building on George W. Bush’s PEPFAR program which has helped defeat HIV/AIDS in Africa. Americans and Africans gained valuable experience in providing incentives, protections for medical safety and “last mile” service to get treatments to those most in need. Entrepreneurial companies are eager to assist: Ghana has turned to Zipline’s system of warehousing, inventory management, unlimited delivery sites and 24-hour drone transport; other African nations are looking to apply this model to their unique conditions.
Third, good intentions need to be backed by money. The International Monetary Fund maintains that roughly 60 percent of the world could be vaccinated by mid-2022 for $50 billion, a small sum compared with the trillions the United States has spent at home. The World Bank and other development agencies should prioritize grants or at least long-term, no-interest financing. The new director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, who has written passionately about victims and the voiceless, now has an opportunity to show what USAID can do. Together, the G-7 should be able to reach the IMF’s 60 percent target to safeguard humankind — and their own citizens.
Finally, we must recognize that biosecurity is much like the transnational threat of climate change; we cannot address it country by country. Pandemics have been increasing in cost and frequency as virologists point to the dangers of wildlife-livestock-human transmission, arising especially in Southeast and South Asia. The acrimonious search for the origins of covid-19 should not block drafting a future agenda. Scientists can map the genomes of potential zoonotic viruses, and health authorities can add surveillance, preventive and rapid response systems.
If the leaders of the western democracies fail to act this summer, the developing countries will force a brutal reckoning at the G-20 Summit in October, with great damage to the Biden administration’s aspirations. If developing countries are angry in October, the G-7 will face rage at the climate conference in November. No commander in chief wants to be remembered as the person who ignored the warnings of catastrophe.