Rich countries aim to end COVID-19 vaccine inequities

The leaders of wealthy nations and big drugmakers promised on Friday to do more to bridge the startling divide in fighting COVID-19, with an increased flow of badly-needed vaccines to poorer regions.

During a virtual G20 global health summit in Rome on Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe would donate at least 100 million doses to poorer nations by the end of the year.

The EU also promised 1 billion euros to build vaccination manufacturing hubs in Africa.

Lavishly-funded mass inoculation campaigns are helping many wealthy countries slash infections, but few shots have reached less developed nations where the virus still rages sometimes uncontrollably, drawing accusations of "vaccine apartheid."

According to the World Health Organization, to date, some 1.53 billion doses have been administered globally, but only around 1% of them in Africa.

U.S. philanthropist Bill Gates appeared virtually at the G20 health summit and called for more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the world.

BILL GATES: “If we do not close this immense gap, more people will die needlessly. There are two immediate actions countries can take. Share dollars and doses.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged countries to pitch in:

MARIO DRAGHI: "As we prepare for the next pandemic, our priority must be to ensure that we all overcome the current one together. We must vaccinate the world, and do it fast."”

But there was no consensus on a contested push by the United States and other nations for pharmaceutical companies to waive valuable vaccine patents.

The suggestion has been snubbed by some European nations, who have instead called for the removal of U.S. trade barriers that they consider the main bottleneck.

Pfizer, however, pledged to make available 1 billion cut-price doses this year to poorer nations with another 1 billion vaccines provided next year.

And Johnson & Johnson promised 200 million doses of its vaccine to COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the WHO.

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