Trump stays mum on sharing vaccines as leaders push for equality

Leaders of the world’s richest countries pushed for equality in the race to vaccinate people against the coronavirus, while President Donald Trump stayed quiet on sharing U.S.-made vaccines with other nations.

The battle to counter the pandemic dominated the first day of a virtual summit of Group of 20 nations on Saturday, hosted by Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. president told his counterparts that any American who wants the vaccine will be able to get it, and singled out American producers Pfizer Inc., whose jab has been developed along with a German company, and Moderna Inc., according to officials who asked not to be named discussing the talks, which weren’t open to the press.

Trump praised American leadership, claiming credit for what he said was an efficient fight against the virus and success in bolstering the nation’s economy. But he said nothing about granting access to American vaccines by the rest of the world.

U.S. coronavirus deaths continue to soar, having recently passed 250,000, with the nation repeatedly reaching a record for daily cases. Total infections are nearing 12 million, with states including Ohio and California posting new COVID-19 case highs.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks he left the virtual session — while U.K. Prime Minister was speaking — and was replaced first by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and then White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, according to officials familiar with the meeting. Some other leaders also dropped off after giving their speeches, the officials said.

Trump later departed the White House for his Virginia golf course. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia in August trumpeted its success in becoming the first nation to register a COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. U.S. and European rivals, though, are now moving faster to produce their vaccines and obtain regulatory approval. The European Union has reached a deal with Pfizer, which is partnered with Germany’s BioNTech SE, and is negotiating an accord with Moderna.

China, meanwhile, is already rolling out mass vaccine output to fight the disease, offering it as a tool of soft power.

Echoing Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said it was up to each individual to decide whether to be vaccinated, adding that the pandemic shouldn’t justify attacks on people’s freedom.

Trump wasn’t alone in praising his own country’s efforts. But Russian President also said his country is ready to share its vaccines with others that need it. That’s even as Russia hasn’t produced enough doses to start mass inoculation of its own population.

“The main risk, of course, remains the likelihood, despite some positive signals, of mass, long-term unemployment and the accompanying rise in poverty and social dislocation,” Putin said in his speech. “And the role of the G-20 is to ensure this doesn’t happen.”

“It is a case when competition may be inevitable, but we must proceed primarily from humanitarian considerations and make it a priority,” Putin added about vaccine availability, according to an official Kremlin translation of his remarks.

China, likewise, made a point of offering up its vaccines. “China will honor its pledge, provide help and support to developing countries, and strive to make vaccines a global public good that is accessible and affordable to all countries,” President Xi Jinping told the meeting, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi also called on G-20 members to support the World Health Organization in coordinating resource allocation to ensure equitable and efficient distribution of vaccines worldwide.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the meeting the G-20 should work to secure the “affordable and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccine for everyone.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said countries should share vaccines, and stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation against the virus, according to a G-20 official.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the 55-nation African Union, called for all countries to have “equitable and affordable access” to a vaccine once it becomes available and urged the G-20 to help ensure any funding shortfalls are addressed.

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(c)2020 Bloomberg News

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