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G-20 pledges global access to vaccines

G-20 leaders ended a summit promising to make COVID-19 vaccines affordable and equally accessible for all and to support the U.N. health agency.

Leaders of the Group of 20 major economies ended a summit hosted by Saudi Arabia on Sunday with a joint promise to make COVID-19 vaccines affordable and equally accessible for all and to support the U.N. health agency.

Though the two-day virtual summit was an opportunity for G-20 leaders to close ranks around fighting the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 1.38 million people worldwide, it also highlighted how isolated the United States has become under President Donald Trump's "America First" policies. Just days after the United States surpassed a quarter million deaths from COVID-19, Trump missed part of the summit to play golf.

Its final communiqué also emphasized the “important mandates" of the United Nations and support for its health agency, the World Health Organization, from which Trump announced last July the United States would withdraw  — and take away its largest source of funding. President-elect Joe Biden, however, has promised to rejoin WHO and other organizations and treaties that Trump abandoned.

"We have mobilized resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines," G-20 leaders said in the 12-page communiqué, or leaders' declaration. "We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation."

The Group of 20 is a forum of the world’s biggest economies for developing global policies on the most pressing challenges. It includes 19 countries, plus the European Union. Together they represent 80% of global economic output.

The members are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the E.U., France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States.

Leaders acknowledged the pandemic has had an "unprecedented impact in terms of lives lost, livelihoods and economies affected," and that it also has been accompanied by an "unparalleled shock that has revealed vulnerabilities in our preparedness and response and underscored our common challenges."

Deals with pharmaceuticals

Despite Trump's unwillingness to participate, other leaders expressed support for the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration among 10 international organizations to raise tens of billions of dollars for coronavirus tests, medicines and vaccines worldwide.

The ACT-Accelerator includes the COVAX Facility — an ambitious effort to accelerate COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee all nations will have fair and equitable access to them — that is co-led by WHO; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The United States, however, is not the only country or territory negotiating deals with pharmaceutical companies to ensure their populations will get quick access to vaccines. Others that have reserved their own supplies of shots include Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Macau, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the European Union.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia, whose nation chaired the G-20 this year and presided over the weekend summit, emphasized that his intention has been to "jumpstart the global response" since WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic in March.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that international cooperation is the optimal way to overcome crises," he said in a statement. "We must focus on the most vulnerable segments. We must provide support for all countries of the world, for we will not be safe until everyone is safe.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged G-20 leaders to provide leadership in three key areas: halting the further spread of the pandemic, mobilizing the resources to build forward better and aligning recovery efforts with the U.N.'s 17 anti-poverty Sustainable Development Goals and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, another treaty Trump exited but Biden vowed to rejoin.

"I was encouraged by the broad recognition that vaccines — as well as tests and treatments — must be global public goods, available and affordable for all," Guterres said in his speech. "But I want to repeat the call on G-20 members to support the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX facility. There is a financial gap of US$28 billion, and we need US$4.2 billion of that immediately for mass manufacturing, procurement and distribution around the world."