Covid-19 vaccine donations from rich countries to global south must not be counted as aid
Shared principles and safeguards are urgently needed to prevent ODA budgets being artificially inflated by vaccine donations and to avoid unduly applauding donors for a behaviour that created and exacerbated a situation of vaccine inequality in the first place.
'Absolutely unacceptable,' that was World Bank Vice President for Human Development Mamta Murthi’s damning indictment of the low vaccination rates in developing countries back in August this year. A month later, the World Health Organisation condemned wealthy nations for stockpiling coronavirus vaccines, treatments and protective equipment and reminded the international community that failing to distribute these resources equitably would have worldwide consequences. And yet, according to the latest joint COVAX statement on supply forecast, while at least 80 per cent of the population in high- and upper-middle-income countries have received at least a first vaccination dose, the same is true for only 20 per cent in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Additionally while G7 countries make up only 13 per cent of the global population, they have purchased more than a third of the world's vaccine supplies.
Currently rich countries are sitting on a surplus of vaccines that they now want to donate. The United Kingdom (UK), Japan, Canada, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) recently committed to supplying tens of millions of doses. While laudable, the intention of some of these countries to count the donations of surplus vaccines in their official development assistance (ODA) statistics is unconscionable. These vaccines were never purchased in the interest of development partners and counting them therefore undermines the integrity, character and quality of ODA.
Back in June, donors agreed with reporting their Covid-19 vaccine donations as ODA, starting 2020. By the time of the next Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Senior Level Meeting in January 2022, they will have already needed to agree on a price to be tagged to these vaccines. The latest proposal on the DAC table suggested a price per vaccine of US$ 6.72, which is more than double the previous proposal of US$ 3 per vaccine. According to rough estimates based on the pledges made by Canada, the EU, the UK and the US, at this US$ 6.72 price / vaccine ODA totals could see an increase of US$ 10.8 billion in the next two years - hardly a minor amount.
OECD DAC members should reach a final agreement on this matter by the end of December. The next opportunity to discuss these issues will be at the upcoming meeting of the DAC Working Party on Development Finance Statistics, which will take place from 22 to 24 November.
Ahead of these discussions, we believe the role of the DAC and its members should be to ensure that ODA-eligibility rules for activities related to Covid-19 vaccines uphold the integrity of ODA and its purpose to promote the ‘economic development and welfare of developing countries’. This includes preventing the artificial inflation of ODA budgets (even if minimal), and avoiding applauding donors unduly for a behaviour that created and exacerbated a situation of vaccine inequality in the first place. Only vaccine dose donations to developing countries that were purchased with that donation as the intent can legitimately be counted as ODA. Shared principles and safeguards are also needed to ensure vaccines reach the people they are intended to benefit (thus they are not compromised by their expiration date, transport and storage infrastructure). Last but not least, donors should not give up on their key commitments to transparency and accountability, meaning that the breakdowns of doses shared, their make, to whom and the cost attributed to these vaccines (at source) should all be made available for public scrutiny. The Covid-19 pandemic is a global problem affecting every single country across the world, and so the fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines can only be a matter of global public health.
This discussion that will contribute to inflated ODA figures is not happening in a vacuum, rather it follows last year’s agreement on the reporting of debt relief as ODA. Combined with this decision, the possibility of reporting Covid-19 vaccine donations, means that 2021 ODA figures may reach unprecedented levels without necessarily mobilising additional financial resources. What’s more, some rich countries, the most outspoken one being the UK, are also considering rechanelling a portion of their unused IMF-recently allocated Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to meet their ODA targets, which could imply making savings in their aid budgets in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.