The Guardian view on global vaccination rates: a tale of two pandemics | Editorial


During the eurozone debt crisis, the then president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, deployed a phrase that demonstrated the transformative power of strong leadership in dangerous circumstances. By vowing that he would do “whatever it takes” to protect the euro from aggressive speculation by bond markets, Mr Draghi eased the pressure and defused a crisis that, left unchecked, posed an existential threat to the European Union.

The spirit of “whatever it takes” is required this summer from richer nations, if a durable and morally just exit from the Covid-19 pandemic is to take place. As G7 leaders prepare to meet in Cornwall next weekend, a cross-party group of more than 100 MPs has called on Boris Johnson to match each vaccine administered in Britain with a donated dose to developing nations, where there is a desperate shortage. In a joint plea, the heads of the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization have warned that the gulf in levels of vaccination is creating a “two-track pandemic”. Some low-income countries have received less than 1% of global Covid vaccinations, while rich ones have hoovered them up.

As Britain hovers on the precipice of a potential third wave of the virus, the case for showing greater global solidarity is pragmatic as well as moral. The higher transmissibility of the B.1.617.2 variant, named Delta by the WHO on Tuesday, is jeopardising the roadmap to ending restrictions on 21 June. Originating in India, the variant was not the first and will not be the last one to emerge, as long as swathes of the global population remain unvaccinated.

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The thousands of young people who took an unexpected chance to be jabbed on Monday in Twickenham helped the country towards making Covid a manageable health issue. But ultimately, safety lies in high global vaccination rates. Overwhelmingly, though, this is a moral matter. If developing countries are left to take their chances, the future burden on the rich world’s conscience does not bear thinking about. The director of the Oxford vaccine group, Prof Andrew Pollard, has warned that without a step change in the provision of vaccine doses to lower- and middle-income countries, “many millions” could die between now and September.

The time for global leadership and decisive action is therefore now. An immediate rise in the number of vaccine donations to developing countries is required, as is investment in production capacity. A more ambitious global vaccination target – currently set at 30% by the end of the year – should be put in place. New money must be found to provide better support for health workers and hospitals in poorer countries, and give greater access to therapeutic and diagnostic equipment. The snail’s pace of WTO talks over vaccine patent waivers must be speeded up, allowing local manufacturing capacity to develop.

The IMF estimates that $50bn worth of new spending could significantly accelerate the end of the pandemic in the developing world. In the summer of 2012, Mr Draghi and the ECB protected the euro by effectively underwriting sovereign debt. If some of the wealthiest countries in the world can unite to save a currency, they can do the same to protect lives. When G7 leaders meet in Cornwall, they should seize the moment and do their duty by the poorer nations of the world.

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