The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The pandemic fire is still raging. Rich-country leaders must respond.

A health worker inoculates a woman with a dose of the Covishield vaccine during a vaccination drive for labourers in Secunderabad, India, on Tuesday.
A health worker inoculates a woman with a dose of the Covishield vaccine during a vaccination drive for labourers in Secunderabad, India, on Tuesday. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)
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LEADERS OF the major international health and financial organizations are sending an urgent SOS to the Group of Seven summit next week in Britain: The global pandemic response is lopsided. Rich nations are vaccinating people 30 times faster than the poorer countries. Rectifying this inequity is in everyone’s interest, and requires political willpower, action and money.

The appeal from leaders of the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund was published in our pages Monday. They say that a commitment of an additional $50 billion could feasibly end the pandemic faster in the developing world, save lives and boost global economic output. As the managing director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, put it at a news conference, health policy is now economic policy, too. The leaders’ appeal is based on an IMF staff study by Ruchir Agarwal and Gita Gopinath that calls attention to the risks of highly unequal health prospects for the world, and proposes measures to respond. According to a new Rockefeller Foundation report, half of Americans and more than a quarter of Europeans have received at least one vaccine dose, but only 1.2 percent of people in Africa, 4.8 percent in Asia and 14 percent in South America are vaccinated. The longer the pandemic lingers, the greater a chance that variants will arise and potentially come back to haunt everyone.

What’s needed now is speed: ramping up the vaccine effort to cover 40 percent of the global population this year and 60 percent by the first half of next year, in part by surging investment to vaccines and other therapies in poorer countries. The Covax facility, aimed originally at vaccinating 20 percent of the people in these countries, could raise its ambition to nearly 30 percent if it can meet its campaign goal of $8.3 billion in cash contributions at a summit hosted by Japan on Tuesday. Grants and cash, not promises, are vital. Covax was crimped severely when the Serum Institute of India stopped exporting doses because of the Indian second wave, but Covax can still deliver if given more help. The price tag seems ridiculously low compared to the costs of a raging pandemic.

Rich nations must work harder to donate surplus doses. The IMF notes the United States had an estimated 80 million surplus vaccine doses available to donate as of April (on May 17, the administration pledged to donate that amount), and the U.S. surplus stockpile will grow to about 350 million doses by August.

Unfortunately, money alone isn’t enough. Manufacturers are striving to produce three times the normal supply of vaccines in a year. Supply chains are critical: Vaccine production can require more than 200 individual components, and if one falls short, production can halt. New manufacturing plants have to be built around the world, but the process is exacting and time-consuming. The fire is still raging, and the G-7 leaders must see it and respond.

Read more:

Kristalina Georgieva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, David Malpass and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Here’s our plan to increase vaccine access and end the pandemic faster

Justin Trudeau, Sahle-Work Zewde, Moon Jae-in, Jacinda Ardern, Cyril Ramaphosa, Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Stefan Lofven and Elyes Fakhfakh: The international community must guarantee equal global access to a covid-19 vaccine

Letters to the Editor: We shouldn’t care who wins the vaccine ‘race’

The Post’s View: A patent-free ‘people’s vaccine’ is not the best way to help poor countries

The Post’s View: The worldwide vaccine campaign is on shaky ground