G7 must ‘bloc’ the pandemic with global vaccination plan
Johnson’s call-to-action may not match Winston Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech in 1940.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s appeal to G7 leaders to pledge to vaccinate the world’s eight billion people by the end of next year is practical and less ambiguous than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) policy flip-flops over the course of the pandemic.
Finally, there is clarity of purpose at a time when narrow national interests have been prioritised over the welfare of global masses.
Johnson’s call-to-action may not match Winston Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech in 1940. However, it could pave the way for a modern Allied effort against a viral invasion that has claimed more than 3.5 million lives and shattered billions of livelihoods. I am drawing parallels to Churchill’s address to the British parliament in 1940 after the miraculous rescue of 338,000 British and Allied troops from Dunkirk in France by civilian boats ahead of the German advance.
The Battle of France was lost, but the successful operation gave Churchill a platform to launch a global campaign against the Axis powers led by Germany. He had earlier warned of the threat which PM Neville Chamberlain had ignored, only to see the German juggernaut subdue Europe.
Johnson, however, is not in the Churchill mould, but he realises he’s waging war against a foe whose origins are still cloaked in secrecy. He knows that only a concerted allied counter-offensive would save our future after the failure of the WHO and the United Nations to rally countries early in 2020 when the novel coronavirus spread and infected millions of people.
More than a year into the pandemic, the world needs a grand vaccination coalition to combat the predicted waves of mutants and variants that experts are warning us about. Covax, a vaccination alliance backed by the WHO, is struggling with commitments for only 150 million doses so far, when it actually needs one billion to vaccinate people in poor countries by the end of the year.
The British PM, to his critics (and there are many of them), is often seen as a politician who bumbles and rambles on. This time, though, he may be right. Last year, he played the waiting game amid relentless criticism to roll out a smart vaccine campaign at home. He is now rousing other nations to join forces against the coronavirus that does not respect borders, people or country.
A global vaccination action plan with the financial support and commitment of the G7 is critical. This could then be extended to the G20. With institutions like the United Nations and the WHO coming under a cloud for their handling of the pandemic fallout, countries — big and small — must join forces to create a new post-pandemic global order that has health at its core.
It takes us back to 1940 when the world faced a political crisis with the failure of the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, to prevent global conflict, and Churchill was the man to inspire world leaders from their slumber with what is known as the ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech.
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,” he said. Some Britons were dismayed but the larger gameplan was to boost morale after the Nazi invasion caught most of Europe by surprise. Appeasement of the Nazis under Hitler was the policy and the Third Reich was on the ascent. More importantly, it was intended to send a message to the United States to join the Allied war effort. US President Franklin Roosevelt responded with US arms supplies and logistical support in the European war effort against the Nazis.
Will the US heed the call this time? Operation Warp Speed put the country on the fast track to produce a potent vaccine arsenal. With mRNA technology that both Pfizer and Moderna use, America is better placed to confront the Covid-19 challenge, though vaccination rates are slowing in the country. The US has already covered 40 per cent of its population. It has 60 million does of AstraZeneca vaccine in stock, which it should distribute to countries without delay.
The plan to vaccinate nine million people by the end of 2022 is possible if vaccines reach the poorest in Africa and Asia by marshalling the West’s financial resources with the developing world’s manufacturing capabilities.
Relying on the WHO, that has little teeth and has been reduced to a talk shop, will only delay the vaccination process globally.
According to the International Chamber of Commerce, the global economy could lose $9.2 trillion if jabs are not given soon. A $25 billion global investment in vaccine collaboration and production could give the world the arsenal it needs. The two blocs could jointly fund this venture.
The US shelled out $13 billion to rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan of 1948. It can do it again in 2021. Nature estimates 11 billion doses will be needed to cover 70 per cent of the population under a two-dose vaccine regimen that could make herd immunity a reality. With less than 2.2 billion doses making it to arms so far, there’s still a long way to go. The G7 and G20 have a chance to prevent further devastation. It’s time to ‘bloc’ the pandemic and not leave healing to institutions like the WHO that have already lost credibility.
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