French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged fellow European nations and the United States to give up to five percent of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to developing countries in Africa, warning poorer nations are paying “astronomical prices” for jabs being made in the West.
Macron said the current uneven distribution of doses marked an “unprecedented acceleration of global inequality” and cautioned some countries were being charged two or three times the price paid by the European Union for vaccines such as the one produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca.
“We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries,” Macron told the Financial Times newspaper ahead of a G7 meeting by video link.
“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality,” he added. “It’s unacceptable when a vaccine exists to reduce the chances of a woman or a man according to the place where they happen to live.”
Macron’s comments came after the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday denounced the “wildly uneven and unfair” global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, pointing out that just 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations.
Rich nations, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations more than once. By contrast, many African and Latin American nations have insufficient stocks to innoculate all of their citizens even once.
‘War of influence over vaccines’
Macron said the imbalance was “politically unsustainable” and could fuel a “war of influence over vaccines”, citing the roles played by China and Russia in offering their own inoculations to countries facing supply gaps.
He added that moves by European nations and the US to rapidly divert a small share of their stocks would not hinder mass vaccination efforts in those countries.
Macron’s government has been criticised for the sluggish pace of France’s inoculation campaign, with it and other EU countries lagging far behind the US, UK and several other rich nations in terms of the percentage of their populations offered a jab to date.
“We’re not talking about billions of doses immediately, or billions and billions of euros. It’s about much more rapidly allocating 4-5 per cent of the doses we have,” he said.
“It won’t change our vaccination campaigns, but each country should set aside a small number of the doses it has to transfer tens of millions of them, but very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”
Macron added that he welcomed the rollout of vaccines made in Russia and China alongside those developed in the West, provided the former were proven to be effective against the various strains of the virus present in each country they were deployed in.
“It’s not about vaccine diplomacy, it’s not a power game – it’s a matter of public health,” he said.
He also called on pharmaceutical firms to be transparent about their pricing regimes for vaccine doses and for developers to share their expertise and technology in order to accelerate the global production of vaccines.
“Inevitably the political question of intellectual property will arise in all our countries,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the right debate, it’s not helpful, but it will arise – this discussion over excess profits based on scarcity of the vaccine.”