Pressure Grows on G20 Nations to Get Covid Vaccines to the Poor

ROME — The leaders of the world’s largest economies wanted to send a strong message about ending the coronavirus pandemic from the opening moments of the G-20 summit on Saturday: Doctors in white coats and first responders from the Italian Red Cross joined them on the dais for an unconventional group photograph.

Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, opened the meeting by highlighting the stark disparity in access to vaccines between rich and poor countries in his opening remarks.

Mr. Draghi, whose country is hosting the summit, said, “Going it alone is simply not an option.” “Finally, we can look to the future with great — or some — optimism,” he concluded.

Health experts and activists, however, expressed concerns that the world’s wealthiest nations were still not doing enough to help those in poorer countries survive the current pandemic.

Although he has promised to turn the US into a “arsenal of vaccines,” President Biden, according to his advisers, will not make any specific plans to close the vaccination rate gap between the wealthy and the less fortunate. A better strategy would be to encourage other leaders to look into debt relief and emergency financing for countries that have been hit hard by the pandemic..

It was clear that Trump had other priorities when he arrived at the summit: fixing global supply chains, encouraging investment in climate change mitigation, and meeting with the leaders of Europe to discuss a 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that the Trump administration scuttled.

A historic global agreement aimed at preventing large corporations from shifting profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes was endorsed on Saturday by Vice President Biden and other world leaders, a victory for President Obama, whose administration worked hard to bring the agreement to fruition.

Unnamed administration officials say the leaders plan to formally endorse the deal in a communiqué to be released on Sunday.

Mr. Biden has been urged by health experts and influential advocates, including Pope Francis, to focus on closing the vaccine gap in poor countries, which are particularly vulnerable to the virus and its variants.

World Health Organization estimates that poor countries have given an estimated four doses per 100 people, while wealthy countries are increasing the number of children being vaccinated.

“The main thrust of the effort on Covid-19 is not actually travelling through the G20,” presidential national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on board Air Force One en route to Rome. At a virtual summit in September, he said, Vice President Biden set “more ambitious targets” for countries pledging to share doses of the vaccine with one another.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will host a meeting of dozens of countries and nongovernmental organisations this year to secure commitments on vaccine sharing, but Mr. Sullivan said the Group of 20’s focus was on the future instead.

It was previously reported that the US would purchase 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech Coronavirus vaccine doses for poorer countries in June. In September, he announced the purchase of an additional 500 million Pfizer doses and pledged an additional $750 million in vaccine distribution funds, half of which would go to a nonprofit dedicated to global vaccination campaigns.

More than a million doses will be shipped this year, but that’s far short of the amount needed to provide meaningful protection against the virus, say experts.

Célia Belin, a visiting foreign policy fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said, “You really have a failure of developed countries’ leadership post-Covid.” What you’re doing will have repercussions.

Indeed, wealthy nations are doing more than simply donating vaccines to poor countries. The more the virus spreads around the world, the more likely it is to continue producing lethal variants, making it more difficult to end the pandemic and putting everyone at risk, rich and poor alike.

Mr. Biden has already received a personal plea to do more since arriving in Rome: According to a senior official, Pope Francis pressed President Obama on the subject during a meeting on Friday in Rome.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, urged the leaders of the world’s largest economies in an open letter to the Group of 20 to “help stem the pandemic by expanding access to vaccines and other tools for the people and places where these are in shortest supply.”

Some anti-globalization and anti-globalization protesters showed up as the summit got underway to voice their concerns about security. They included laid-off factory workers and climate activists.

There will be a lot of us,” said Gino Orsini, a union representative from the Si Cobas, who is organising a protest for Saturday to coincide with the gathering.

Rioting marred Italy’s hosting of the Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, in 1998, which will be commemorated this year for the first time in twenty years. Officials and opponents of the Italian government’s mandatory coronavirus vaccination requirements are at odds, and there have been violent clashes as a result.

Local government official Giovanni Borrelli said that 5,500 additional law enforcement officers would be deployed this weekend. “The level of attention is maximum,” he said.