(Bloomberg) — Leaders of the world’s richest countries promised to ensure equality in the race to vaccinate people against the coronavirus, even as President Donald Trump stayed quiet on sharing U.S.-made vaccines with other nations.
The U.S. president told his counterparts on Saturday at a virtual summit of Group of 20 nations that any American who wants the vaccine will be able to get it, and singled out American producers Pfizer Inc., whose jab has been developed along with a German company, and Moderna Inc., according to officials who asked not to be named discussing the talks, which weren’t open to the press.
Trump praised American leadership, claiming credit for what he said was an efficient fight against the virus and success in bolstering the nation’s economy. But he said nothing about granting access to American vaccines by the rest of the world.
U.S. coronavirus deaths continue to soar, having recently passed 250,000, with total infections surpassing 12 million.
Trump’s comments stand in contrast to other leaders, many of whom spoke during the meeting, hosted by Saudi Arabia, of the need for fair distribution of vaccines, especially to poorer nations.
In their final declaration, G-20 leaders said they will spare no effort to ensure “affordable and equitable access” to vaccines for all people, even as they noted the need for individual states to support innovation at home. “We recognize the role of extensive immunization as a global public good,” the leaders said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday expressed concern, however, about progress under the Covax vaccine program to help developing nations.
“I am a bit concerned when I now hear that nothing has happened yet,” she said at a media briefing. “When there is no more money left, we will have to see. Germany has seldom done nothing, but Germany also cannot uphold the international alliance on its own.”
Russia in August trumpeted its success in becoming the first nation to register a Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. U.S. and European rivals, though, are now moving faster to produce their vaccines and obtain regulatory approval. The European Union has reached a deal with Pfizer, which is partnered with Germany’s BioNTech SE, and is negotiating an accord with Moderna.
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China, meanwhile, is already rolling out mass vaccine output to fight the disease, offering it as a tool of soft power.
Echoing Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said it was for each individual to decide whether to be vaccinated, adding that the pandemic shouldn’t justify attacks on people’s freedom.
Trump wasn’t alone in praising his own country’s efforts. But Russian President Vladimir Putin also said his country is ready to share its vaccines with others that need it. That’s even as Russia hasn’t produced enough doses to start mass inoculation of its own population.
“The main risk, of course, remains the likelihood, despite some positive signals, of mass, long-term unemployment and the accompanying rise in poverty and social dislocation,” Putin said in his speech. “And the role of the G-20 is to ensure this doesn’t happen.”
“It is a case when competition may be inevitable, but we must proceed primarily from humanitarian considerations and make it a priority,” Putin added about vaccine availability, according to an official Kremlin translation of his remarks.
China, likewise, made a point of offering up its vaccines. “China will honor its pledge, provide help and support to developing countries, and strive to make vaccines a global public good that is accessible and affordable to all countries,” President Xi Jinping told the meeting, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Xi also called on G-20 members to support the World Health Organization in coordinating resource allocation to ensure equitable and efficient distribution of vaccines worldwide.
Saudi Arabian Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan told a media briefing on Sunday after the summit wrapped up that there was an appreciation at the meeting of the need to help other countries.
“There is very clear recognition from the G-20 members that if we leave any country behind, we will be behind,” he said. “And if one country suffers, we will all suffer.”
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the meeting the G-20 should work to secure the “affordable and fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccine for everyone.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said countries should share vaccines, and stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation against the virus, according to a G-20 official.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the 55-nation African Union, called for all countries to have “equitable and affordable access” to a vaccine once it becomes available and urged the G-20 to help ensure any funding shortfalls are addressed.
(Updates with Merkel comments from seventh paragraph)
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