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Vaccinate America first, Trump tells G20 – POLITICO

Vaccinate America first, Trump tells G20 – POLITICO
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Lame duck U.S. President Donald Trump has a coronavirus plan: Vaccinate America first!

Trump told a G20 leaders’ telesummit hosted by Saudi Arabia on Saturday that he wants U.S. citizens to be the first to receive vaccinations against coronavirus — a position that is in keeping with his America First ideology but contradicts the position of public health experts and some other world leaders, who have urged giving priority to front-line health workers and vulnerable populations such as the elderly.

Trump’s intervention, described by diplomats and officials watching the videoconference, fit into a wider display of vaccine-nationalism by leaders participating in the summit, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and even U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson talking up the vaccines being developed and manufactured by their own countries.

Trump, who spoke on Saturday morning from Washington before heading out to play golf, claimed that two vaccines based on mRNA technology that received heavy publicity in recent weeks, made by Moderna and a partnership between BioNTech and Pfizer, were the work of U.S. companies. In fact, BioNTech is a German company, which retains ownership of the scientific technology that the vaccine is based upon.

While Trump’s precise plans were not entirely clear to leaders who heard his speech, he is likely to have only limited influence over how the U.S. manages the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. Though he has so far refused to concede, Trump lost the U.S. presidential election to Joe Biden (by more than 6 million in the popular vote) and is due to leave office on January 20, 2021.

Trump has often showcased his nationalist views in such global meetings, as he did in September in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, which was also held virtually this year because of coronavirus. “Only when you take care of your own citizens, will you find a true basis for cooperation,” Trump told the U.N., on the same day that the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. surpassed 200,000.

The White House did not immediately provide a read-out of Trump’s G20 intervention or a text of his remarks.

While Trump was perhaps the most forthright of leaders in his nationalistic approach, Russia and China are effectively following a similar path by moving forward with national distribution of their own vaccines. On Thursday, leading Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm announced that its coronavirus vaccine had been administered to nearly 1 million people, with no sign of adverse side effects. Russia, meanwhile, has pushed forward with its vaccine, Sputnik V.

Western regulators have cautioned that they do not have enough data about Chinese and Russian vaccines to gauge their effectiveness and safety levels.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her own speech to G20 leaders, urged international cooperation and further financial commitments to programs aimed at making sure vaccines and therapeutics also reach countries that are least able to afford them.

“Vaccine manufacturing production is scaling up fast towards the objective of producing 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021,” von der Leyen said, noting that 186 countries had joined the international COVAX program to equitably produce and distribute vaccines.

“This would not have been possible without our joint effort,” von der Leyen told the leaders. “Now it is more important than ever to continue our joint efforts to stop the virus. To save lives, and to support our economies.” She added, “our policy on vaccines is our only real exit strategy.”

But it was far from clear that the club of wealthiest nations was prepared to fully answer her call. Von der Leyen said an additional $4.5 billion was urgently needed by the end of this year “to stay on target with our objectives” and urged countries to donate. 

Katri Bertram, a Berlin-based expert on international development, said the efforts were coming up short.

“ACT has raised only $4 billion in pledges out of $38 billion needed to date,” Bertram said. “Members of the G20 are unlikely to fill this funding gap. On the contrary: A number of G20 members have not even committed to the principles of ACT. Even those members who have signed on in principle continue to invest in bilateral and regional deals to secure tests and treatment, and have already hoarded a large majority of potential vaccines through bilateral deals — undermining and hollowing out the entire principle of working in partnership and ACT.” 

She added: “The EU, which has secured bilateral vaccine deals on behalf of many European G20 members, has only recently announced a minor increase of its pledge to COVAX — bringing the total pledge to €500 million.”

“What we are seeing here is a scenario where key donors who would have the potential to fill large funding gaps point fingers to other donors — and in the end, no significant investments are made, except into bilateral deals,” said Bertram.

In introductory remarks to kick-off the leaders’ summit, Saudi King Salman gave a sober assessment of the global health crisis. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented shock that affected the entire world within a short period of time, causing global economic and social losses,” Salman said. “Our peoples and economies are still suffering from this shock. However, we will do our best to overcome this crisis through international
cooperation.”

Salman, however, also expressed worry about making enough vaccines available at affordable prices to developing countries. “Although we are optimistic about the progress made in developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics tools for COVID-19, we must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all peoples,” he said. “At the same time, we must prepare better for any future pandemic.”

While the summit was being held via videoconference, with leaders required to do little more than sit in front of their computers, some hallmarks of G20 gatherings remained in place. Putin, who makes a point of arriving late in person, was similarly late on Saturday. As Salman began his speech, the Russian leader’s chair could be seen as empty in the montage of faces.

At the summit’s conclusion, leaders are expected to adopt a joint declaration, including strong language in support of their combined effort to fight climate change. Diplomats involved in drafting the text said that so far the U.S. was supporting the climate change language — a remarkable shift for Trump, who in previous years has fought hard against such language. At last year’s summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump insisted on a dissenting view.

This year, however, the declaration was developed by the Saudi G20 presidency in close consultation with Washington, as well as Beijing and Brussels, and it appeared that Trump’s support for the text reflected his close partnership with Riyadh during his presidency, rather than any policy shift or recognition that Biden has pledged to re-enter the Paris climate accords.

Jillian Deutsch contributed reporting.





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