Bilateral Deals Will be Key to Nailing Down G20 Health Ministers’ Declaration
Italian health minister Roberto Speranza addresses a media briefing after the meeting.

G20 health ministers have agreed to share COVID-19 vaccine doses with low and middle-income countries (LMIC) and to support their capacity to produce their own vaccines, but failed to commit to numbers or a time frame.

The two-day meeting of G20 health ministers ended on Monday with the adoption of a health declaration that reiterated the group’s support for strengthening “the resilience of [COVID-19 vaccine] supply chains, to increase and diversify global, local and regional vaccine manufacturing capacity, and building expertise for LMICs, including for the raw materials needed to produce vaccines”.

But host Italian health minister Roberto Speranza told the media at a post-meeting briefing on Monday that the G20 countries would need to “consider the text as a starting point”.

“Some countries have bilateral arrangements to send vaccine doses directly to LMICs and COVAX,” Speranza told a meeting briefing on Monday. “But it is not enough to transfer doses. We really need to make sure that all areas are capable of producing their own vaccines by sharing methodology and personnel.” 

While the declaration acknowledges that “we need to also share more doses to meet the immediate need for safe, effective and quality and affordable vaccines building upon the commitments made at the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) Summit”, only Germany was prepared to make a numbers-based commitment. 

German Health Minister Jens Spahn announced on the sidelines of the meeting that his country would make 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses available globally before the end of the year.

WHO appeals for more support

Addressing the meeting on Sunday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appealed to the group for support on three key issues.

First, he appealed for wealthier countries to swap “near-term [COVID-19 vaccine does] delivery schedules with COVAX, fulfilling your dose-sharing pledges by the end of this month at the latest, and facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing”.

He also called for support for “a legally binding international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response” – the so-called ‘pandemic treaty’ – due to be discussed at a special session of the World Health Assembly at the end of November

Finally, Dr Tedros appealed for their support to strengthen the WHO, including financially through “a historic reversal of the current imbalance between assessed and voluntary contributions”. 

The COVAX AMC Summit, co-hosted by Japan and global vaccines body Gavi, secured commitments from G20 members to ensure the global distribution of 1.8 billion vaccine doses – enough to cover nearly 30% of the population of AMC eligible economies. However, most of these undertakings have yet to materialise, with Dr Tedros stating recently that only 10% of promised doses had actually been shipped.

The meeting also welcomed the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub launched by the WHO recently, and supported “voluntary technology transfers on mutually agreed terms, market shaping and increase local production capacities worldwide”.

While the meeting did not embrace a pandemic treaty – G20 members US, Brazil and Russia are believed to be opposed to such a measure – the declaration supported strengthening the WHO’s ability to address global health emergencies 

“We look forward to the findings and proposals of the Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November 2021. WHO should be adequately, sustainably and predictable funded by its Member States to fulfill its mandate and live up to their expectations towards the WHO,” notes the declaration.

It also supported more research to “better understand the links between human, animal (both domestic and wild) and environmental health” and “improving systems for the coordinated surveillance of zoonotic pathogens, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and environmental risks” inclding by establishing early warning systems for communicable diseases.

The G20 is made up of 19 countries and the European Union. The 19 countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, and the US.

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