Trump stays mum on sharing Covid-19 vaccines as leaders pledge to do so

US President Donald Trump said that any American who wants the vaccine will be able to get it.
US President Donald Trump said that any American who wants the vaccine will be able to get it.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Leaders of the world's richest countries are promising to ensure equality in the race to vaccinate people against the coronavirus, even as US President Donald Trump stays quiet on sharing United States-made vaccines with other nations.

Mr Trump told his counterparts on Saturday (Nov 21) at a virtual summit of Group of 20 nations that any American who wants the vaccine will be able to get it, and singled out American producers Pfizer, whose jab has been developed along with a German company, and Moderna, according to officials who asked not to be named discussing the talks, which weren't open to the press.

Mr Trump praised American leadership, claiming credit for what he said was an efficient fight against the virus and success in bolstering the nation's economy. But he said nothing about granting access to American vaccines to the rest of the world.

US coronavirus deaths continue to soar, having recently passed 250,000, with total infections surpassing 12 million.

Mr Trump's comments stand in contrast to other leaders, many of whom spoke during the meeting, hosted by Saudi Arabia, of the need for fair distribution of vaccines, especially to poorer nations.

The summit communique - a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg and which the US as a member state will have agreed to - pledges to "spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members' commitments to incentivise innovation". It calls widespread immunisation a "global public good".

Shortly after Mr Trump made his remarks on Saturday, he left the virtual session - while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was speaking - and was replaced first by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and then White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, according to officials familiar with the meeting. Some other leaders also dropped off after giving their speeches, the officials said.

Mr Trump later departed the White House for his Virginia golf course. A US official said it was standard practice for leaders to come and go during such summits, which can go for many hours. The official, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters, said Mr Trump stayed for at least the first hour of the meeting.

Russia in August trumpeted its success in becoming the first nation to register a Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V.

US and European rivals, though, are now moving faster to produce their vaccines and obtain regulatory approval. The European Union has reached a deal with Pfizer, which is partnered with Germany's BioNTech, and is negotiating an accord with Moderna.

China, meanwhile, is already rolling out mass vaccine output to fight the disease, offering it as a tool of soft power.

Echoing Mr Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said it was up to each individual to decide whether to be vaccinated, adding that the pandemic shouldn't justify attacks on people's freedom.

Mr Trump wasn't alone in praising his own country's efforts.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin also said his country is ready to share its vaccines with others that need it. That's even though Russia hasn't produced enough doses to start mass inoculation of its own population.

"The main risk, of course, remains the likelihood, despite some positive signals, of mass, long-term unemployment and the accompanying rise in poverty and social dislocation," Mr Putin said in his speech. "And the role of the G-20 is to ensure this doesn't happen."

"It is a case when competition may be inevitable, but we must proceed primarily from humanitarian considerations and make it a priority," Mr Putin added about vaccine availability, according to an official Kremlin translation of his remarks.

China, likewise, made a point of offering up its vaccines.

"China will honor its pledge, provide help and support to developing countries, and strive to make vaccines a global public good that is accessible and affordable to all countries," President Xi Jinping told the meeting, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Mr Xi also called on G-20 members to support the World Health Organisation in coordinating resource allocation to ensure equitable and efficient distribution of vaccines worldwide.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the meeting the G-20 should work to secure the "affordable and fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccine for everyone".

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said countries should share vaccines, and stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation against the virus, according to a G-20 official.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the 55-nation African Union, called for all countries to have "equitable and affordable access" to a vaccine once it becomes available, and urged the G-20 to help ensure any funding shortfalls are addressed.