Europe, Asia back vaccine equity as new variant emerges

The World Health Organisation states for every 100 people in high-income countries, 133 doses have been administered, while in low-income countries, only four doses per 100 people have been administered.

FILE: Nomvelo Radebe (22) from Soweto received her COVID-19 vaccine jab at Bara Taxi Rank. Picture: Department of Health.

BANGKOK, THAILAND - More than 50 European and Asian leaders called for vaccine equity Friday at a virtual summit as a new Covid-19 variant was detected in South Africa.

The two-day 13th summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting, hosted by Cambodian leader Hun Sen, came as nations raced to slow the spread of the new more infectious strain -- known as B.1.1.529 -- that scientists fear could be more resistant to vaccines.

Globally, coronavirus jab distribution has been unequal with poorer nations' vaccination rates remaining at dismal levels while wealthier countries push booster jabs.

In a statement after the summit, leaders emphasised the need for "all countries to have equitable and timely access" to Covid-19 testing, medication and vaccines.

They also called "for the strengthening of national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation" over the pandemic.

"We will continue sharing vaccines with the world," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after the summit.

But she warned that increased vaccine manufacturing capacity was needed to reach a 70 percent global vaccination rate by mid-2022.

Europe has already exported more than 550 million doses to the Asia Pacific region, she said, adding, "Global solidarity is vital to end the pandemic."

So far 7.7 billion doses have been administered worldwide but vaccination rates in poor countries remain low.

The World Health Organisation states for every 100 people in high-income countries, 133 doses have been administered, while in low-income countries, only four doses per 100 people have been administered.

Last month the United Nations and the WHO criticised rich nations' rollout of booster shots, choking off poorer nations' access to jabs.

GREEN RECOVERY

The summit also discussed "turning climate ambition into climate action," von der Leyen said.

Recovery from the pandemic was an opportunity to accelerate transitions to green and low carbon emission economies, leaders said.

"The meeting attached high importance to a balanced and environmentally friendly recovery," Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said.

The summit also discussed the ongoing crisis in coup-hit Myanmar and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, calling for unhindered access for humanitarian groups providing assistance.

"Leaders expressed concern about the security situation and agreed that Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorism and called on the Taliban to cut ties with all terrorist groups," a statement said.

On Myanmar, leaders urged all parties to "immediately cease violence", and called on the junta to release individuals arbitrarily detained.