Gordon Brown calls for G7 to act on Covid vaccine ‘apartheid’

Larry Elliott
·3-min read
Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters
Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

Preventing poor countries suffering from vaccine “apartheid” will require the G7 group of rich nations to commit $30bn (£22bn) a year to a global immunisation drive, Gordon Brown has said.

The former Labour prime minister said the UK should use June’s G7 summit in Cornwall to rekindle the moral purpose of the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005, paying for its share of the new fund by reversing the government’s “misguided” cut to the foreign aid budget.

Brown, who has written for the Guardian outlining his plan for a $30bn-a-year mass vaccination programme, said he was alarmed that vaccination in Africa had barely begun and warned that this would have repercussions for rich nations.

The G7 – the UK, the US, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada – should contribute $30bn annually, he said, in line with their share of global economic output. Britain would be expected to contribute 5-6% of the total, between $1.5bn and $1.8bn a year.

 Brown, who was chancellor when the Gleneagles summit of 2005 took action to help the world’s poorest countries through debt relief and increased aid, said: “Britain could easily pay for its share of the G7 fund by immediately reversing the misguided cut to the aid budget announced by the chancellor last year”.

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Despite cutting aid spending this year from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told the World Bank’s spring meeting last week that the UK was committed to playing its part in the global effort to respond to the pandemic.

“We are committed to using our G7 presidency to drive further action, in that spirit we will share the majority of Covid-19 vaccines that are surplus to our domestic needs through the Covax procurement pool,” Raab said.

But Brown said the current approach to raising the funds to help spread the benefits of vaccination beyond better-off counties was equivalent to a whip-round. “That’s no way to run global finance,” he said.

“Contributions should be based on equitable burden sharing. The G7 can afford to pay 60% of the costs of vaccinating developing countries and the oil states, China and others can help pay the rest.

“All those who remember Live Aid and Make Poverty History know what a mass mobilisation can achieve and I want to see a petition with hopefully several million signatures submitted calling for action to vaccinate now.”

In his Guardian article, Brown said affluent countries accounting for 20% of the world’s population had been responsible for the bulk of the orders placed for vaccines. Meanwhile, just 70,000 people in Africa – which has a population of 1.2 billion – have been fully vaccinated.

“Immunising the west but only a fraction of the developing world is already fuelling allegations of “vaccine apartheid” and will leave Covid-19 spreading, mutating and threatening the lives and livelihoods of us all for years to come,” he said.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been calling for a stepping up of the global vaccines effort, and Brown said it would take a “herculean” mobilisation – spearheaded by the G7 – to reach the greatest number of people in the shortest time. The real problem was not a shortage of vaccines but the lack of money to pay for them, he added.

“Vaccine diplomacy, whereby nations selectively donate vaccines to friendly allies, is little more than ‘pinprick’ diplomacy because only the favoured few will be Covid-free.

“We need to spend now to save lives, and we need to spend tomorrow to carry on vaccinating each year until the disease no longer claims lives. And this will require at least $30bn a year, a bill no one so far seems willing to ​ fully ​underwrite​.​”

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