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French President Emmanuel Macron has urged European countries and the US to donate 5 per cent of their COVID vaccine supplies to developing nations, in order to curb Chinese and Russian influence.
Mr Macron warned that poorer countries are having to resort to paying “astronomical prices” for some vaccines or using the Chinese and Russian jabs, neither of which have been approved for use by regulators in Europe.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the French president suggested that “we are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries.”
Hi comments come as Mr Macron oversees a slow start to France's domestic vaccination programme. The country has jabbed just 3.17 million people, while the UK has inoculated 16.5 million.
“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” the president said, adding: “You can see the Chinese strategy, you can see the Russian strategy too.”
Moscow has brokered deals with more than 50 countries for its Sputnik V vaccine, including EU member Hungary and membership-hopeful Serbia. Belgrade also joined the vaccine diplomacy game today, donating 2,000 Sputnik doses to neighbour Montenegro.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday that “we still wonder why Russia is offering theoretically millions of millions of doses while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating their own people.”
Ms von der Leyen defended the EU’s continued purchasing of more COVID vaccines, despite ongoing delivery woes, insisting the bulk buying is because “we want to vaccinate our neighbourhood as well”.
World Health Organisation officials welcomed Mr Macron’s comments but also urged countries to go through proper channels when making donations.
"One thing which doesn't help is when countries go on their own and provide directly to other countries," WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom said, suggesting it could undermine efforts to ensure worldwide distribution is equal as it would make allocation hazy.
COVAX, a WHO-led distribution initiative, aims to vaccinate more than 20% of populations covered by the scheme by the summer. The UK is among the largest COVAX donors (£548 million), with the EU (£432 million) and France (£86 million) also dipping into their pockets.
It came as China announced it will donate 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Namibia.
China, aiming to cultivate goodwill through so-called vaccine diplomacy, has already donated vaccines to a number of African nations as they struggle to obtain doses, including Zimbabwe and Congo Republic.