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UK's Johnson calls on nations to increase support to COVAX initiative, net zero emissions goal

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his virtual attendance at the G20 Leaders' Summit to call upon all nations to come together and do more to support the COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine for all countries, including low-income countries.

The UK has committed £619 million (US$803 million) to COVAX so far, with £548 million (US$711 million) exclusively for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) financing mechanism that works to enable equitable distribution to lower-income countries.

Johnson also used the G20 to urge countries that have not yet done so, to commit to net zero emissions in order to ensure a sustainable future for all. This call comes ahead of the UK co-hosted Climate Ambition Summit to be held on December 12, 2020, which hopes to see more countries join the pledge to reach net zero.

Press release - UK government

European Commission President calls on G20 leaders to mobilize US$4.5 billion in 2020 for global COVID-19 response

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on leaders at the G20 Leaders' Summit to fill the US$4.5 billion gap in immediate funding needs of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), a global initiative to ensure affordable and equitable access for all to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

Saudi Arabia hosted the virtual summit where leaders discussed the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis, debt relief for low-income countries, economic recovery, World Health Organization (WHO) reform, and other issues. Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel represented the EU at the summit.

G20 leaders committed to mobilizing the immediate global financing required for ACT-A and ACT-A’s COVAX Facility, the mechanism for the procurement and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Leaders will also continue to implement the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which suspends bilateral debt service payments for lower-income countries, through June 2021. They also acknowledged the important role of the WHO, confirmed their commitment to financing Universal Health Coverage in low-income countries, and expressed a commitment to improving global pandemic preparedness, prevention, detection, and response.

Press release - European Council

G20 Leaders' Declaration - G20 Riyadh Summit

Global health will top Italian G20 presidency agenda in 2021

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte attended this year's G20 Leaders' Summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, and announced Italy's priorities as its G20 presidency will start officially on December 1, 2020.

Conte declared that health and socio-economic responses to the COVID-19 crisis would be at the top of the agenda, in addition to ensuring universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, strengthening health systems, and emphasizing multilateralism.

He pointed out the overlapping priorities between the G20's health agenda and the European Commission's Global Health Summit to be hosted by Italy in May 2021.

Furthermore, Conte said that the Italian presidency intends to promote sustainable, inclusive, and resilient recovery, building the presidency around three pillars: people, planet, and prosperity, with women's empowerment as a critical focus across all issues.

Italy's presidency will culminate with its hosting of the next G20 Leaders' Summit on October 30-31, 2021.

Speech - President of the Council (in Italian)

Germany's Merkel calls for participation in ACT-A COVAX Facility, WHO reforms

At the virtual G20 summit on November 21-22, 2020, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for more global efforts in securing equitable access to COVID-19 tools. Emphasizing the importance of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), Merkel called for more participation in ACT-A's COVAX Facility, the mechanism that aims to procure and equally distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

The Facility, led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, aims to provide two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries. While the international community has provided around US$5.0 billion to the Facility so far, more global effort and funding will be needed to ensure a fair distribution and to tackle the global challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, Merkel said.  

At the same time, she expressed concerns that while wealthy countries have already secured access rights to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates, no major deals have yet been closed for low-income countries. 

Merkel further called for a strengthening of the WHO and more sustainable WHO funding to guarantee better cooperation and independence.

News article – Zeit Online (in German)

News article – Deutsche Welle

COVID-19 vaccines must first be available to the most vulnerable in all countries, "not all people in just a few countries," says German Federal President

In a guest commentary of the German newspaper, Tagesspiegel, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged for a globally fair distribution of future COVID-19 vaccines. Given that the EU would likely end up having access rights to more vaccine doses than needed within the EU, Germany and the EU should send a clear political signal to be willing to share these with low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), he stated.

Steinmeier pointed to the fact that while EU member states had already secured access to promising vaccine candidates, more than half of the world’s people live in countries lacking the means to acquire such access rights early in the process. Germany and the EU have from early on supported the COVAX Facility which aims to ensure that over 90 LMICs will have access to two billion vaccine doses until the end of 2021. However, some major donor countries have not contributed to the extent possible yet, Steinmeier noted.

He further emphasized that ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines would not solely be an act of solidarity but also an economically meaningful response. To respond as a global community to the pandemic, “we would have to recognize that it is in our own, enlightened interest that some people are vaccinated in all countries first, and not all people in just a few countries”, Steinmeier stated.

News article – Tagesspiegel (in German)

European Commission signs fifth contract on future COVID-19 vaccines with CureVac; sixth contract to be approved with Moderna

The European Commission signed its fifth contract on behalf of EU member states to purchase 405 million doses of a future potential COVID-19 vaccine with CureVac, a German biotechnology company.

The deal includes 225 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine candidate, with the option to request 180 million more. Member states will be able to donate doses to lower- and middle-income countries or redirect them to other European countries.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) had previously signed a €75 million (US$88 million) loan agreement with CureVac for the development and large-scale production of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The European Commission has also signed similar vaccine deals with AstraZenecaSanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV (Johnson & Johnson), and BioNTech-Pfizer. The Commission has completed exploratory talks with Moderna, with the contract to be approved on November 25, 2020.

Press release - European Commission

Influential US senator calls for reengagement in global health through COVAX Facility, WHO

US Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and a close ally of President-elect Joe Biden, called for the US to reengage in the global effort to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including global vaccine development and distribution.

Coons, who is among those thought to be in the running for Secretary of State in Biden's administration, called on the US to "lead by example" to reverse the harm that the Trump administration has done to its nation's standing in the world.

The steps that Coon recommended the Biden administration should take include joining the COVAX Facility to support vaccine procurement and equitable distribution, as well as rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), from which the Trump administration announced its withdrawal.

He also addressed the need to rebuild US capacities around global health security and surveillance, as well as to elevate global health within the US national security operations.

News article - Devex

Research and development of COVID-19 tools shouldn't count as ODA, says UK parliamentary report; disagreement sparks over international ODA rules

A new report by the UK parliamentary International Development Committee (IDC) on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in low-income countries has called on the UK government to ensure that its finite official development assistance (ODA) budget is not used to support the general research and development (R&D) of COVID-19 tools which benefit all countries, and to rather reserve the ODA for supporting the distribution of tools to low-income countries and tackling the secondary impacts of the pandemic.  

This call is in line with the current international rules on ODA spending, set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which say that COVID-19 spending from the ODA budget must be on items that disproportionately support low-income countries and do not provide global public goods for all. However, the report stated that "not all members agreed with the Secretariat’s interpretation of the rules in this instance," and the rules could be changed this month, depending on what OECD DAC members agree to.

The IDC report noted that, to date, the UK has spent around £310 million (US$401 million) of the UK development assistance budget on R&D for COVID-19 tools so far, but the IDC can not yet tell whether or not this spending had breached the rules.

Press release - Devex

Report - UK Parliament

EU to contribute additional US$118 million in grants to COVAX Facility for global COVID-19 vaccine access

European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, announced during a session of the Paris Peace Forum (an annual event with the theme this year to improve global health governance and green financing) that the EU will be contributing an additional €100 million (US$118 million) to the COVAX Facility, a global mechanism to equitably source and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

This is on top of a previous EU contribution to the COVAX Facility of €400 million (US$471 million) in guarantees in August 2020.

COVAX, which is run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), is part of the ‘vaccine pillar’ of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to develop, manufacture, and equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

The EU’s contributions will help to finance access to vaccines for lower- and middle-income countries that are unable to self-finance. The funding will come from the European Development Fund’s reserves and will go directly to Gavi.
Press release - European Commission

Spain announces US$59 million pledged to Gavi in June will go exclusively to COVAX AMC

While virtually attending the November 2020 Paris Peace Forum (an annual meeting to improve global governance), Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that the €50 million (US$59 million) that Spain pledged to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in June 2020 will be entirely funneled into the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for increased COVID-19 vaccine access for low- and middle-income countries.

During his speech, Sánchez underlined the importance of developing new vaccines to effectively tackle the COVID-19 crisis. He also reminded audiences that vaccines for HIV and malaria have not yet been developed, and he stated that international cooperation and multilateralism should be strengthened in order to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Press release – La Moncloa (in Spanish)

European Commission reaches fourth deal on future COVID-19 vaccines with BioNTech and Pfizer

The European Commission signed its fourth contract to purchase 300 million doses of a future potential COVID-19 vaccine with the BioNTech-Pfizer alliance. This follows the companies’ recent announcement that their vaccine candidate has so far shown to have a 90% efficacy rate. However, exploratory talks for a deal had already been completed in September 2020.

The deal includes 200 million doses of BioNTech-Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, the option to purchase 100 million more, and the potential to donate doses to lower- and middle-income countries or to redirect to other European countries. This is BioNTech-Pfizer’s largest initial order of vaccine doses so far.

The vaccine candidate is currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials. It will be manufactured in both Pfizer’s Belgian and BioNTech’s German production facilities.
The European Commission has also signed similar vaccine deals with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV (Johnson & Johnson).
Press release - European Commission
Press release - Pfizer

European Commission presents plans for European Health Union developed based on COVID-19 lessons

The European Commission (EC) published a Communication on its plans to build a European Health Union, alongside three legislative proposals to address cross-border health threats, strengthen the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and extend the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 

While the EU does not have many health powers, given that health is considered a member state level competency, the EC has proposed new EU-level health mandates that would not require EU treaty changes (all health recommendations would be non-binding).

The plans to build a 'European Health Union' were developed based on the early lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis, including that the EC’s response was hampered by weak EU health agencies and the lack of EU health policies and capabilities. The EC hopes that its plans will address the “gaps” in EU health powers to enable the EU to better lead and coordinate responses to future emergency health threats.

In order to strengthen the European Health Union, the plans propose that the ECDC provide recommendations on response measures and that the EU recognize emergencies and also provide advice on response measures. Further suggestions include:

  • A new EU Executive Steering Group on medical devices;
  • A permanent EMA emergency taskforce;
  • Strengthened EU clinical trials infrastructure;
  • The development and implementation of an EU health crisis preparedness and response plan;
  • ECDC epidemiological surveillance;
  • New European Health Data Space; and
  • The creation of a contact tracing technological system. 

The EC also plans to create an ‘EU BARDA’ modeled after the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), but the legislative proposal will not be presented until late 2021.

News article - Euractiv

Communication - European Commission

Cross-border health threats legislative proposal - European Commission

ECDC changes legislative proposal - European Commission

EMA changes legislative proposal - European Commission

Norway allocates US$133 million to combat non-communicable diseases in low-income countries

Minister of International Development Dag Inge Ulstein announced that Norway, from 2020 to 2024, will contribute an additional US$133 million to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases in low-income countries.

The government is following its 'Better Health, Better Lives' strategy, announced by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2019. Ulstein emphasized that this funding is important in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, as the risk of getting seriously ill from the virus increases when one has underlying conditions.

There is an overall need to strengthen health systems in low-income countries. Non-communicable diseases receive only 1-2% of overall global health-related development assistance funding. This increases the funding gap for the most vulnerable. According to the Norwegian government's press release, Norway is the first donor country with a strategy focusing on non-communicable diseases in low-income countries. 

Press release - Norwegian government 

European Parliament and Council presidency reach agreement on next EU long-term budget with US$17.7 billion additional funding for development, health, research

European Parliament (EP) negotiators and the German presidency of the Council of the EU have struck a political agreement on the next EU long-term budget that provides €15.0 billion (US$17.7 billion) in additional funding for flagship programs such as health, research, and education and €1.0 billion (US$1.2 billion) more in flexibility funding for future needs and crises. 

These changes would apply to the €1.80 trillion (US$2.10 trillion) deal struck by EU leaders in their July European Council meeting that included €1.07 trillion (US$1.26 trillion) for the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) and €750.0 billion (US$882.8 billion) for the EU recovery fund, Next Generation EU.

The additional €16.0 billion (US$18.8 billion) in the compromise agreement for flexibility and targeted programs will be funded via revenue from competition fines (€12.5 billion, or US$14.7 billion) and reallocations (€2.5 billion, or US$2.9 billion).

Increases to program funding in the compromise deal from the EU leaders’ July deal include: 

  • €4.0 billion (US$4.7 billion) increase for the Horizon Europe research program’s health, climate, and digital research for a final program budget of €84.9 billion (US$99.9 billion);
  • €1.0 billion (US$1.2 billion) increase for the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) for a total budget of €71.8 billion (US$84.5 billion); and
  • €3.4 billion (US$4.0 billion) increase for the new EU4Health program, tripling the total to €5.1 billion (US$6.0 billion).

The EP-Council presidency agreement also includes a roadmap to introduce new sources of 'own resources' (additional revenue streams) in addition to the planned plastics levy, including a carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital levy, a financial transaction tax (FTT), and a common corporate tax base. The EP also successfully negotiated the ability to have more budgetary scrutiny over Next Generation EU and increased ambition on biodiversity.

The deal will need to be approved by the whole European Parliament and unanimously adopted by the Council of the EU. The Council must also approve the Own Resources Decision that will enable the EU to begin borrowing funding for Next Generation EU, and then the Own Resources Decision will need to be ratified in the 27 member states’ national parliaments. Following this, negotiations will need to be finalized on the legislative files establishing the various EU programs.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has threatened to veto the MFF and Next Generation EU over his objection to a new mechanism linking EU funding to the rule of law. Other member states have threatened to veto if the rule-of-law mechanism is not approved. 

News article - Politico

News article - Science|Business

Press release - Council of the EU

Press release - European Parliament

Spain leads global joint statement to strengthen multilateralism

On November 10, 2020, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez hosted a high-level meeting in Madrid to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the UN. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and heads of state and government from Sweden, Canada, South Korea, Costa Rica, South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Jordan, and Senegal virtually participated in this event. 

This group of donor and partner countries convened to publish the call to action ‘Joint Statement: Reinforcing Multilateralism Together', with the ambition of reinforcing multilateral institutions, advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and taking concrete measures to address global challenges in key areas such as global health, climate change, gender equality, and digitalization.

This initiative will be shared with other countries to actively mobilize the international community around the following goals:

  • Reduce inequality and leave no one behind;
  • Improve conditions for health, health preparedness, and effectiveness of global health systems;
  • Protect our planet;
  • Promote peace, security, and justice;
  • Defend human rights, democracy, and gender equality;
  • Take "advantage of the digital revolution"; and
  • Ensure sustainable financing.

Press release – La Moncloa (in Spanish)

UN adopts resolution promoted by Spain to protect women and girls through COVID-19 response; US disassociates from sexual and reproductive health phrases

On November 10, 2020, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) adopted a resolution with the goal of placing women and girls at the heart of the global response against the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.

Presented and promoted by Spain, and including more than 80 country co-sponsors, this UN resolution claims to guarantee that the COVID-19 crisis will not disproportionally affect women’s and girls' rights and quality of life. Among other topics, it includes specific references to women's rights to influence the pandemic response, the need to keep working to effectively end gender-based violence, the importance of advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the value of front-line women providing health and care services, the role of civil society organizations, and the right to quality education for everyone.

The US Mission to the UN, which presented several amendments to the draft resolution that were not approved by the UN General Assembly, published a statement disassociating itself from the paragraphs mentioning terms such as “sexual and reproductive health” and “sexual and reproductive health-care services”, due to what it sees as "the promotion of abortion or a right to abortion that are unacceptable to our Administration".

Press release – Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAEUEC)

Meeting coverage – United Nations

Statement – US Mission to the UN

European Commission proposes MFF budget compromise of US$17.7 billion increase in research, health, development funding

The European Commission has proposed a new potential compromise on the next EU long-term budget plan—the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF)—to help address the European Parliament’s demand for more money for vital programs, including research, development, education, health, and security. 

The compromise proposal would increase funding for target programs by €15.0 billion overall (US$17.7 billion), including a €500 million (US$591 million) top-up for research by shifting funds from the budget margins, as well as a €1.0 billion (US$1.8 billion) top-up for development programs using reflows from an investment facility.
The Parliament’s demands included a €39.0 billion (US$46.1 billion) increase in funding for certain programs, whereas EU governments have only been willing to offer a €10.0 billion (US$11.8 billion) increase. Although it cannot offer amendments, the Parliament must approve the MFF deal before it can be officially adopted by the EU governments in the Council of the EU. 
Negotiations continued on November 9, 2020, and a final vote is expected in mid-November during a Parliament plenary session. 

News article - Euractiv

News article - Politico Pro

UK parliament debates whether to waive intellectual property rules on COVID-19 products

Some members of the UK parliament have challenged the government to use its influence at the international level to push for a waiver of intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, to enable wider access for low- and lower-middle-income countries.  

Speaking at a debate in the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 2020, Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat Party’s chief whip, noted that without such urgent action, richer countries will likely crowd out poor countries' access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, resulting in a two-tier rollout and deepening existing inequalities.

Chamberlain noted that rules within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) already exist to enable countries to override health monopolies in exceptional public health circumstances. She also cited how Germany, Australia, and Canada have already taken advantage of these rules, loosening their laws around compulsory licenses in order to allow (if required) the use of interventions to assist with COVID-19 without the patent holders' consent.

Chamberlain, who was supported by Sarah Champion (Labour MP and Chair of the International Development Select Committee), called for the UK to step up as a force for good and support the South African and Indian proposal for intellectual property monopolies to be waivered on COVID-19 products.

However, Wendy Morton, minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), noted that the UK government wanted the existing rules on intellectual property rights to be upheld and not waivered. Morton cited the importance of intellectual property rights in incentivizing companies to invest in research and development around new drugs against COVID-19. 

The UK government has spent around £1.0 billion ($1.3 billion) on research for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines and has contributed £548 million (US$709 million) to the COVAX Facility, an international partnership under the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator that pools resources to negotiate vaccine deals, with the goal to also help lower-income countries have more equitable access to vaccine candidates.

News article - Devex

European Commission awards US$151 million to 23 COVID-19 research projects

The European Commission has awarded €128 million (US$151 million) to 23 new research projects addressing the COVID-19 crisis and its effects.

The funding will support research to strengthen and adapt industrial capacity for manufacturing prevention, diagnostics, and treatment equipment, as well as research to improve mitigation measures. This funding comes from the Horizon 2020 research framework program and is a part of the Commission’s €1.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response initiative.

The projects' goals include: 

  • Repurposing manufacturing for vital medical supplies and equipment;
  • Improving surveillance and care through medical technologies, digital tools, and artificial intelligence analytics; and
  • Developing solutions to the behavioral, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Press release - European Commission

Ahead of government review, UK parliamentary committee releases new vision for UK's next decade of international policy

The UK’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, a cross-party parliamentary body, has released a new report following its inquiry into the future of UK international policy. 

The report, titled 'A Brave New Britain? The Future of the UK’s International Policy', is intended to influence the findings of the government’s integrated review of UK foreign affairs, defense, and development which aims to establish a vision of Britain’s global role over the next decade.

The report is highly critical of the UK’s existing international approach which, it notes, has left the UK  "adrift", lacking clarity, confidence, and coherence. Centered around the need for a strengthened leadership role for the government’s new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the report makes the following eight key recommendations on how the UK can increase its engagement at a global level:

  1. Prioritize the Indo-Pacific and European regions within its new international policy, given their importance to the UK’s prosperity and security: The report recognizes that the government has already indicated that it will tilt its foreign policy to the Indo-Pacific region, given the growing economic and geopolitical importance of the region, and the report asks for the government to provide greater detail into the strategic goals and resources that will be provided to achieve this shift. However, the report also argues that this shift must not come at the expense of neglecting the UK's European interests and calls for greater efforts to establish links with European capitals following Brexit.
  2. Strengthen the strategic coordination between the Department of Trade and the FCDO to ensure greater policy coherence and impact of the UK’s trade policy: The report references other countries where a trade department has been fully absorbed into a foreign affairs department to enable greater coherence.
  3. Ensure the FCDO prioritizes mediation, conflict resolution, and atrocity prevention:  The report recommends the FCDO be provided with an enhanced institutional ability to coordinate with the Ministry of Defence in this sphere to ensure coherence.
  4. Publish a soft power strategy that includes a resource budget and gives the FCDO the leadership role in coordinating the multiple government departments to deliver on this strategy: This call comes from an analysis in the report that highlights that the UK’s comparative advantage on soft power is at risk of being eroded by rival powers and the financial threats from the COVID-19 crisis on the UK economy. The report takes a very wide view of soft power, looking beyond the BBC World Service and British Council to include UK’s educational institutions and even the UK’s markets and financial infrastructure.
  5. Lead on reform of multilateral organizations: The report highlights the importance of ensuring international organizations maintain relevance in today’s changing world and benefit all and not the few.
  6. Work through networks of like-minded nations to achieve goals: Using its convening power, the UK should seek to build issue-based coalitions of the willing that can be to used achieve change. The report points to networks around supporting democratic values against authoritarianism, or networks around cooperation on vaccine research, as examples of how this approach could be used to achieve key UK goals.
  7. Continue to commit to fighting the existential threats of climate change and global health security and ensure these are priority areas for future UK international policy: The Foreign Affairs Committee notes that it will be holding inquiries into these two threats in the near future to look into more detail about how the UK can deliver leadership in these areas.
  8. Deploy its convening power and thought-leadership on regulations around frontier sectors such as emerging technologies, cyber, and space domains: This includes establishing diplomatic missions to the leading technology companies to achieve their cooperation in setting future rules and standards.

Report - House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee