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Von der Leyen doubles up on vaccine-donation pledge
The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday (15 September) the EU will donate 200 million additional Covid-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries - doubling its current pledge.
"Our first, and most urgent, priority is to speed up global vaccination," she said in her address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Globally, some 5.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered so far. But the vaccination rate in high-income countries is almost 100 doses for every 100 people, compared to 1.5 doses for every 100 people in low-income countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"This is one of the great geopolitical issues of our time," said von der Leyen, pointing out that "the scale of injustice and the level of urgency is obvious".
She added that Europe is investing €1bn in Africa to ramp up mRNA technology production, which was first developed by the pharmaceutical firms Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The statement comes as countries meet this week for another round of discussions at the World Trade Organization on the possible temporary lifting of intellectual properties rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
However, von der Leyen's speech fell short of addressing this issue.
The EU, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Norway, and Switzerland are currently against the waiver proposal, which has, however, received the support of the United States.
Overall, rich countries have pledged to donate more than one billion doses to Covax, the programme which leads to global efforts to vaccinate people in medium and low-income countries.
However, less than 15 percent have actually been shipped so far, the WHO said on Tuesday.
And the global need for vaccines is estimated at 11 billion doses.
As a result, the EU's generosity has not convinced those trying to reduce the unequal global distribution of vaccines - described by the WHO as a "catastrophic moral failure" by the international community.
"The gap between the EU's beautiful rhetoric about stopping the Covid-19 pandemic and its actions is embarrassingly wide," said Christos Christou, president of Doctors Without Borders International.
"If the EU really wants to stop the pandemic of the unvaccinated, it should give up its blockade at the WTO of the TRIPS waiver [of intellectual property rights], it should ensure Covid-19 vaccine technologies are shared, and it should speed up transfers of vaccines to COVAX," he added.
So far, the EU has delivered around 24 million doses to low-income countries, according to a commission spokesperson. Most of the doses have been donated through Covax, although there have also been bilateral agreements.
Pandemic of the unvaccinated
Meanwhile, von der Leyen praised the EU's vaccination roll-out as a success, pointing out that 70 percent of adults in the bloc are already fully-vaccinated.
Talking about the need to step up efforts in Europe to tackle vaccine hesitancy in some member states, such as in Bulgaria and Romania, she said: "Let's do everything possible to ensure that this does not turn into a pandemic of the unvaccinated".
Yet, von der Leyen's concern seems to apply only to those in the EU.
"How can we congratulate ourselves when only three percent of the population in Africa has been vaccinated with at least one dose?," said the head of the liberal group Renew Europe in the parliament, Dacian Ciolo .
The EU commission chief said that bloc is "ready" for the future since there are 1.8 billion additional doses already secured.
"This is enough for us and our neighbourhood when booster shots are needed," von der Leyen said.
However, EU health agencies have previously clarified that there is no urgent need to administer booster shots to the general population.
[Source: By Elena Sánchez Nicolás, Euobserver, Brussels, 16Sep21]
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