LONDON — Some of the world’s wealthiest countries are promising to share coronavirus vaccines with the poorest, but details of when and how many remain scarce as leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers hold their first meeting of 2021 on Friday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, which holds the G-7 presidency this year, is meeting virtually with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States. The leaders, joined by top European Union officials, will discuss international challenges — chief among them the pandemic that has killed almost 2.5 million people around the world.
Johnson, whose country has had almost 120,000 coronavirus deaths, will hail the speed with which vaccines have been developed against COVID-19 in less than a year, and announce a push to cut the time needed to create new ones to 100 days.
The British government said Johnson will ask U.K. Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance to work with the World Health Organization and others on “speeding up the process for developing vaccines, treatments and tests for common pathogens.”
“The development of viable coronavirus vaccines offers the tantalizing prospect of a return to normality, but we must not rest on our laurels,” Johnson said in comments released by his 10 Downing St. office.
Wealthy countries have snapped up hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines, leaving little for the developing world. Western leaders are promising to share, but so far details have been scant.
Johnson will promise Friday to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people, the British government said ahead of the summit. It did not give a specific time or amount that the U.K. plans to give.
Other G-7 leaders have also been broadly supportive of sharing vaccines. French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe and the U.S. should allocate up to 5% of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the poorest countries “very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron suggested Russia and China are engaged in a “war of influence over vaccines” by offering doses of their own products to some African nations.
America’s G-7 allies are keen to impress President Joe Biden at his first major multilateral engagement since taking office. They are hopeful that U.S. re-engagement with the world following the “America first” years under Donald Trump will mean a more coordinated response on issues including COVID-19 and climate change.
Biden has pledged to join the COVAX initiative, and the White House says he will emphasize the need for global coordination on vaccine production, distribution and supplies when he speaks at Friday’s G-7 meeting.
For Johnson, the G-7 presidency is a chance to demonstrate Britain is still a key global player following its exit from the EU, which became complete at the end of 2020.
A full G-7 summit is scheduled to take place in June at the Carbis Bay seaside resort in southwest England. British officials are hopeful it can take place in person, though at a reduced scale because social distancing rules and other restrictions are likely still to be in place.
Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this story.