G20 virtual summit tackles COVID-19 vaccine, funding

A handout photo made available by G20 Riyadh Summit shows a virtual family photo of G20 leaders projected on the walls of At-Turaif district in Ad-Diriyah, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo courtesy of the G20 Riyadh summit

Nov. 22 (UPI) — World leaders met virtually Saturday for the annual G20 summit with a focus this year on the distribution of funds for COVID-19 vaccines.

“We must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all peoples,” King Salman of Saudi Arabia, 84, said of vaccines and treatments during his opening address. “At the same time, we must prepare better for any future pandemic.”

President Donald Trump briefly participated in the summit from the White House, but was not listed as a participant at a sideline event on pandemic preparedness and later visited his Virginia country club to play golf. He also tweeted about the recent Presidential election while sessions were taking place.

The leaders were expected to approve a public statement on supplying vaccines and doses. The weekend’s events were scheduled to be streamed on the G20 website.

Saudi Arabia is hosting the summit — through Sunday — virtually this year due to the pandemic, replacing the originally planned meeting to take place in Riyadh.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke about the need for global cooperation in a statement ahead of the summit.

Von der Leyen said current pledges of $1.8 billion have fallen short of the $5 billion needed to reach the goal of purchasing 2 billion doses by the the end of 2021 for low-and middle-income countries.

To curb the spread of the pandemic not only in wealthier nations, but the entire world, the ACT-Accelerator and COVAX facility has been set up to mass produce and distribute vaccines and therapeutics and use “collective purchasing power” to negotiate affordable prices.

Ninety-four high-income countries have confirmed their participation in COVAX, while U.S. President Donald Trump has resisted because the World Health Organization is involved.

Another $38 billion in funding is needed for testing and treatment in the ACT-Accelerator of which $4 billion has been committed so far.

“The pandemic has caused an unprecedented shock to the entire world, in terms of lives lost, livelihoods affected and of course economic costs,” von der Leyen said in the statement. “Naturally, our top priority is to stop the virus not only in Europe but in the world. And for this we need to continue investing to make sure that vaccines and therapeutics can be mass-produced and distributed globally at affordable prices.”

G20 countries have put $11 trillion into pandemic economic recovery efforts, according to a report released ahead of the summit.

The two-day summit will also tackle climate change and global trade. Trump’s closeness with the Saudi monarchy has hampered efforts to push Saudi Arabia to adopt climate change targets, and Trump’s trade war with China has impeded efforts to address global trading issues, some diplomats said.

Von der Leyen said in a statement Friday the election of Joe Biden as U.S. president created hope.

“All countries need to work together for improving global health security,” she said. “And while the United States has resisted engaging in this topic so far, I am very hopeful now with the new president-elect that this will change. Indeed, the next president has already committed to increase multilateral cooperation including in the health field.”


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