‘The pandemic is not over yet:’ ONE Youth Ambassadors respond to the Global Health Summit

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Nezha Ben Taleb and Laura Gobbi, two ONE Youth Ambassadors from Italy, are weighing in on the outcomes of the Global Health Summit and the critical role young people play in shaping future policies, global responses, and the world.

A strong echo of hope and solidarity was launched by the Global Health Summit, hosted in Rome on May 15, under the presidency of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and of the EU Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen. “We need to vaccinate the world and we need to do it quickly,” Draghi said. His opening words were peremptory and incisive, pointing out that the pandemic is not over yet. But were the actions taken enough to ensure fair access to vaccines and to end the COVID-19 crisis?

The summit met with important successes through concrete commitments, showcasing that multilateral health cooperation matters. The international community has supported the financing of the COVAX Facility and the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), developed under the auspices of the WHO with the aim of helping the most fragile countries to cope with the pandemic. Italy announced a new contribution of 300 million euros to ensure that immunization, diagnostics, and therapies are made available to low-income countries, on a large scale and rapidly.

Additionally, there was support for the sharing of the surplus of doses of COVID-19 vaccines: President von der Leyen has promised 100 million doses by 2021, of which 15 million come from Italy. This is a timid but promising step to ensure that vaccine doses are used in the best and most effective way possible to protect the most vulnerable. Italy has also announced its opening to support the temporal derogation of the TRIPS agreements on the intellectual property of patents, with the aim of encouraging rapid pharmaceutical responses to this pandemic.

More needs to be done

Despite the progress, much still needs to be done to overcome the present situation which WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called “vaccine apartheid.” To date, high-income countries have signed contracts with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that vaccine supply does not only fully immunize their populations, but also set aside 2.8 billion vaccine doses. This accumulation further highlights the divides between countries.

Equality must be at the heart of the global response to this crisis because, in the face of a pandemic, a local response is effective only in the short term, mass vaccination on a global scale is not only a moral duty but is also in our best interest. Studies show that current vaccine nationalism will make the pandemic twice as deadly and could cost the global economy up to $ 9.2 trillion, half of which will be borne by the richest countries, thus extending the lifespan and reach of this crisis.

The scientific community that spoke out during the Global Health Summit warned that, “the pandemic will not stop without universal access to resources.” And they are not the only ones saying so. Italians are also in favor of sharing the tools available to end COVID-19. According to a ONE survey made in collaboration with YouGov, almost 9 out of 10 Italians believe that vaccines should be distributed all over the world in order to effectively defeat the virus everywhere; while 8 out of 10 think that both our country and the rest of the world will be safe only when COVID-19 is eradicated everywhere, not just within national territories.

The time to act is now

We Youth Ambassadors of ONE, deeply believe in the importance of guaranteeing equal access to vaccines, not only because the right to health is an inalienable and essential right, but also because “no one is safe, until all of us are safe.” This is the time to act. Patent liberalization, the transfer of pharmaceutical know-how, full funding of the ACT-Accelerator, and ensuring a fair distribution of financial instruments such as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to support and sustain low-income countries — only in this way the G20, this year under the Italian presidency, will seize the opportunity to “build back better,” creating a health multilateralism that is able to definitively end the current pandemic and prepare for the future.

Institutions must not forget to listen to the voices of young people in order to lay the foundations for our future in a more equitable, inclusive, and resilient world in the face of new challenges. The post-pandemic economic recovery must put young people at the center of social and economic policies, with particular attention to low-income countries where opportunities have been drastically reduced with COVID-19.

As young activists, we are here to make the voice of our generation heard and we claim space to build our future. The Global Health Summit and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic are a starting point, now we need to take further measures necessary to really “vaccinate the world and do it quickly.”

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