Tue | Apr 20, 2021

Marianne Van Steen | No one safe until everyone’s safe

Published:Wednesday | March 3, 2021 | 12:11 AM
Marianne Van Steen
Marianne Van Steen

Multilateralism is about working together to find great solutions to major challenges that no nation can solve on its own.

As one of the world’s most important protagonists of multilateralism, the European Union (EU) has also, in this unprecedented health crisis, leaned towards a multilateral approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EU has been a key initiator, together with the World Health Organization and other international health organisations, in accelerating research and development of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. It did so not only in words, but also by making funds available for research and the development of vaccines through advance purchase agreements with vaccine producers.

By investing up front in the accelerated development and manufacturing of vaccines, it took a risk – a well-calculated and necessary one – to the benefit of the entire world. It provided the means for the research, leading to what can, so we hope, save humankind from the virus.

Apart from supporting vaccine development, the EU also collaborated with multilateral institutions and other relevant actors to assist in collective vaccine purchase negotiation, roll-out, and delivery. This solid collaboration has become known as the COVAX facility, or the Fund for the Global Access to COVID-19.

The EU and its member states are, in fact, one of the lead contributors to this multi-actor global mechanism by injecting more than €2.2 billion (J$405 billion) to finance 1.3 billion doses of vaccines for 92 lower- and middle-income countries. This support will also assist with the delivery of vaccines for other COVAX participating countries. Jamaica is one of the ‘other participating countries’. This means that Jamaica is contributing financially for the doses it will get, but it benefits from the lower unit prices resulting from the collective negotiations.

COVAX has now started to deliver a first set of 145 million doses to participating countries, including a first batch to Jamaica, which is scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks. If this is encouraging, the better news is that, following the February 19 G7 Summit, COVAX is growing in importance with the announcement of huge additional pledges to the facility (amounting to US$4.3 billion in total). These pledges will help to speed up the availability of vaccines and ensure international vaccine solidarity.

The robust decisions at this G7 Summit were, to some extent, the response to growing allegations pointing to the ‘unfairness‘ of the concentration of vaccines in certain parts of the world, leaving the rest of the world without equal access.

UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION

More and more voices are indeed questioning the unequal distribution of vaccines, calling this both morally unacceptable and scientifically inadequate. The explanation is not difficult because this situation is undoubtedly the result of investment decisions taken at an early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic (having led to advanced purchase agreements as referred to above) by countries with more resources, such as the EU and its member states.

It is, however, certainly not the way the EU wants to proceed. In order to avoid disparities in the roll-out of vaccines, the Europeans decided last week– along with other industrialised States – to significantly increase its financial contributions to COVAX.

More important, we have also decided to scale up production and clear bottlenecks in the supply chain through the establishment of a more strategic public-private partnership with the industry. This would not only seek to address the current insufficient production capacity, but also allow for timely adjustments to vaccine development, in case more virus variants appear.

Jamaica signed up for COVAX, and that is good. There are other options to purchase vaccines and the Government is studying those as well. That is equally good.

This pandemic should not turn into vaccine geo-polarisation; it should not divide countries or force countries to choose sides, but, rather, bring them together in a joint fight against a virus that mutates and extends itself faster than we could ever imagine.

We truly believe that no one is safe until everyone is safe and that, as stated by the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, “The battle against the virus is a marathon and not a sprint.”

In that vein, the EU is, and will remain, fully committed to continue demonstrating its solidarity and uniting its efforts to strive towards a COVID-free world.

Marianne Van Steen is ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Jamaica, Belize, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and The Cayman Islands. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.