Antonio Guterres urges G20 to fund Covid vaccine rollout in poor countries

UN chief says rich nations should help raise $28bn in global drive to quell pandemic

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Powered by automated translation

UN chief Antonio Guterres has joined leaders from Africa, Europe and beyond to urge wealthy governments to fund a rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to poor countries ahead of a global summit hosted by Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The Secretary-General said on Friday that the wealthy member nations of the Group of 20 (G20) should help to raise $28 billion towards UN anti-Covid-19 efforts, including $4.2bn by the end of the year.

Mr Guterres will tell leaders at G20 talks on Saturday that new vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which have shown to be upwards of 90 per cent effective in early trials, cannot only be used to save lives in rich countries.

"The recent breakthroughs on Covid-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope," the former prime minister of Portugal told reporters in New York.

“But that ray of hope needs to reach everyone. That means ensuring that vaccines are treated as a global public good — accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere. A people’s vaccine."

G20 countries have the resources. I am urging all of them to fully support the ACT-Accelerator

His plea comes after Indian drug maker Zydus Cadila said that it could take up to four years to distribute the vaccine throughout the entire world.

About 40 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are expected to be available in the US by the end of the year, with more than 40 million doses available each month after that. Both vaccines require two shots about four weeks apart to be effective.

In April, the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) and others launched the so-called ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX global vaccines facility to pool funds from wealthier countries and charities to develop and distribute anti-Covid-19 treatments and shots.

"G20 countries have the resources. I am urging all of them to fully support the ACT-Accelerator," said Mr Guterres.

"This funding is critical for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new Covid-19 vaccines and tools around the world."

Meanwhile, a letter from the leaders of South Africa and Norway, as well as the heads of the WHO and the European Commission, urged G20 leaders to close a funding gap to buy vaccines, drugs and tests to combat the pandemic.

The letter, seen by Reuters, was sent ahead of this weekend's virtual G20 summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the body made up of rich nations and the big emerging economies.

"A commitment by G20 leaders at the G20 summit in Riyadh to invest substantially in the ACT Accelerator's immediate funding gap of US $4.5bn will immediately save lives," said the letter.

A funding boost would also "lay the groundwork for mass procurement and delivery of Covid-19 tools around the world and provide an exit strategy out of this global economic and human crisis."

The signatories were South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

Saudi Arabia's hosting of the two-day event is a first for an Arab nation. The scaled-down, online event occurs amid a resurgent coronavirus pandemic that has claimed 1.34 million lives globally and ravaged economies.