• Reuters, AFP-JIJI

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The United States is pushing global leaders to endorse what it calls ambitious targets for ending the COVID-19 pandemic, including ensuring 70% of the world’s population is vaccinated against the virus by 2022, according to a draft U.S. document viewed by Reuters on Tuesday.

The three-page outline is addressed to countries, international organizations and private sector groups invited to a virtual COVID-19 summit planned by the United States on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly beginning this week.

The document also asks countries with “relevant capabilities” to donate a billion additional vaccine doses and expedite delivery of 2 billion doses already committed.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed the 70% vaccination target, but gave no further details about the summit or the document. The New York Times, which first reported the new targets, said summit invitations to world leaders were sent last week.

The U.S. document calls for richer countries to ensure at least $3 billion is made available in 2021 and $7 billion in 2022 for vaccine readiness and to combat vaccine hesitancy.

Other key targets include ensuring at least 1 in 1,000 people are tested weekly before the end of 2021, and building surge capacity to ensure that all health care workers have access to personal protective equipment such as masks in 2021.

The draft also called on richer countries to provide $2 billion to bolster the supply of bulk liquid oxygen, donate at least 1 billion test kits by 2022 for low- and lower-middle income countries, and donate $3 billion in COVID-19 therapeutic medicines through 2022.

It called on the private sector to fund a $2 billion global strategy to boost the supply of oxygen systems by the end of next year, and to make testing kits available in poorer countries for no more than $1 a kit.

Last month, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other international groups urged world leaders to accelerate vaccinations, warning that fewer than 2% of adults in most low-income countries were vaccinated, compared with almost 50% in high-income countries. They also noted that fewer than 10% of pledged doses had actually been shipped.

Africa, where many countries have struggled to vaccinate their citizens, wants to buy COVID-19 vaccines rather than keep waiting for donor-funded doses to arrive, the African Union (AU) said the same day, imploring producers to give the continent a fair shot at market access.

The African Union also urged manufacturing nations to lift export bans so the continent can begin to address for itself the glaring inequity in access to coronavirus jabs, as wealthy nations hog available doses.

“Vaccine sharing is good. But we shouldn’t have to be relying on vaccine sharing,” Strive Masiyiwa, the AU’s COVID-19 special envoy, told a news conference at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

“We want to buy from those same manufacturers.”

The major COVId-19 vaccine producers have a moral responsibility to ensure equitable access to end the pandemic, he said, but “those manufacturers know very well that they never gave us proper access.”

Just nine vaccine doses have been administered per 100 people in Africa, according to an AFP calculation.

That figure stands at 118 doses per 100 people in the United States and Canada; 104 in Europe; 85 in Asia; 84 in Latin America and the Caribbean; 69 in Oceania and 54 in the Middle East.

African nations “have been left behind by the rest of the world,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The U.N. health agency chief spelled out the danger of leaving Africa so poorly covered by vaccines.

“This doesn’t only hurt the people of Africa, it hurts all of us,” he said.

“The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.”

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told the news conference that just under 3.5% of the eligible African population has been fully vaccinated.

The WHO wants 40% fully immunized in every country by the end of the year and 70% of the world’s population by mid-2022.

It has called for countries to hold off administering extra booster shots until the end of December to allow more people to get a first dose instead.

The AU has set up the African COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, or AVAT, to purchase jabs for member states in a program to run alongside the donor-funded global COVAX program.

Masiyiwa said Africa was also setting up its own manufacturing capabilities and called for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights on the vaccines, as a common good.

But the Zimbabwean telecommunications mogul, who has been negotiating with vaccine suppliers, said lifting export restrictions would remove the most pressing issue preventing Africa from accessing more doses immediately.

He said: “It was a great miracle to have these vaccines. Now let this miracle be available to all mankind.”

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