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Press Release

IRC on G20: COVID-19 is straightforward compared to climate; G20 must act now or forsake claim to effective leadership

Rome, Italy, October 29, 2021 -- The IRC urges G20 leaders in Rome this weekend to surge life-saving vaccines to poor countries that need them, and advance reform of pandemic preparedness and response systems, or forsake the claim to be offering global leadership.

As wealthier nations offer already fully-vaccinated populations a third dose and reach full vaccination rates of up to and above 70%, vulnerable populations across the world are struggling to obtain even their first dose. In 20 of the fragile countries where IRC works, less than 5 percent of the population has received a single dose of the vaccine. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, that figure is as low as 0.04% of the population. In these places, the race between variants and vaccines is being won by the disease.

Some G20 members have stepped up.  For example the EU has been pivotal in supporting a multilateral response through COVAX, and plans to donate at least 250 million vaccine doses to low and middle-income countries by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has shared an additional 500 million doses of vaccine for COVAX and 17 million for the African Union, and has made a new funding commitment of $370 million dollars to support vaccine delivery. 

But these commitments will not reach global targets. Far more ambitious action will be needed from donor governments to reach 40 percent vaccination coverage by the end of 2021: COVAX estimates that it needs 2.1 billion vaccines to reach this target in 91 low and middle-income countries. The ACT Accelerator has identified a $7.2 billion funding gap needed to roll out Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics; without a scale-up to support vaccine distribution globally that approaches these figures, these goals will not be met.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “Fighting COVID is simple compared to fighting climate change.  But without political leadership, caseloads and mortality will soar in the places that are poorest. The sight of anti-vax protests is sickening for IRC’s clients who are desperate for a chance of vaccination. If the G20 cannot agree on urgent measures to bring the pandemic to heel, it cannot claim to be offering global leadership.”

The IRC urges G20 countries to set ambitious targets for vaccinations, and then take the measures to match: increase their commitments to the COVAX facility, fund vaccine distribution in poor countries, and support investment in both preventative measures and therapeutics to support those in need. This includes continued support to ensure the poorest countries have access to protective equipment, oxygen, testing kits and other critical supplies needed to fight the pandemic and maintain other essential health services. 

The drive to turn vaccines into vaccinations requires: more and faster funding to frontline actors to reach the last mile and address vaccine hesitancy in communities; prioritizing country preparedness and planning to both reach vulnerable populations and detect, prevent and respond to future health threats; and urgent investment to enable the delivery of vaccines before they expire. 

Transparent pricing and delivery schedules for vaccines will be critical for increasing coverage in fragile contexts. To meet the 40% vaccination targets set by WHO, vaccine deliveries to COVAX will have to be expedited ahead of current schedules. Frontline actors can work most efficiently to deliver vaccines from capital cities to arms when they have sufficient, reliable lead times.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, added: “The urgency of vaccinating the world and saving lives now should not be a reason to delay global governance and finance reforms. Rather, the current crisis—including persistent vaccine inequity-- is the strongest possible argument for establishing systematic coordination, accountability and resourcing as soon as possible. In the high stakes race that pits vaccinations against variants, relying on ad hoc accountability and unpredictable financing is too risky. 

In line with the US’ commitments at the Global COVID-19 summit last month, the G20 should prioritize nominating the chairs of a Global Health Threats Council at the highest levels of government. This Council would be tasked with maintaining political momentum in pandemic preparedness and response, identifying gaps in pandemic preparedness and response and holding actors accountable for their actions in support of global safety.  To give it teeth and leverage, the Council should oversee a new financing stream- a multilateral Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for pandemic prevention - that mobilizes significant gap-filling resources. A leader-level Council is also urgently needed to ensure that the next time the WHO declares a public health emergency, the world swings into action rather than allowing months to pass while disease spreads across borders - and takes the deepest toll on the world’s most vulnerable.”

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.