11 Jun 2021

Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister: Global Covid-19 vaccine rollout 'vital'

4:32 pm on 11 June 2021

Former prime minister Helen Clark thinks rich countries should stump up more vaccines and funds to help end the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark speaks during an exclusive interview within the 21st Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival in Ankara, Turkey on May 16, 2018.

"The critical thing is to get the world vaccinated," Helen Clark says. Photo: 2018 Anadolu Agency

Clark, who co-chaired an independent international panel on pandemic preparedness and response, said higher-income countries were trying to do the best they could for their own citizens by getting them vaccinated.

She told RNZ's Midday Report that would not achieve much if Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in other countries, and more variants emerged.

"In other parts of the world, the disease is raging and more variants are coming at us, and it becomes a more and more challenging disease to combat - we haven't really achieved that much," she said.

"The critical thing is to get the world vaccinated. As we know, as we sit behind our big moat with Australia and the South Pacific, we're not really safe 'til everyone is safe. So it's vital to get the vaccination rolled out globally.

"There's a cost to that, and G7 nations ... among the wealthiest in the world would be expected to stump up a reasonable proportion of it," she said.

The G7 - the Group of Seven - is an organisation made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States - the world's most advanced economies.

Those countries account for about 40 percent of the world's GDP.

Médecins Sans Frontières said according to a study done by Oxfam, "of the 1.77 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines given globally, 28 percent have been in G7 countries themselves, while in contrast just 0.3 percent have been given in low-income countries. This despite the fact that the G7 countries together have around the same total population as all low-income countries combined, meaning that for every person vaccinated in a low-income country, 100 people have been vaccinated in G7 countries".

Richer countries also needed to do more to redistribute surplus vaccines they had already paid for, Clark said.

"High income countries like G7, and like our own, have ordered twice as much as what we need, and we need to get that back into the pool to go out into lower and middle income countries," she said.

"The Americans are stepping up and leading on this. I hope every other high income country ... can step up, too."

On the growing support into investigating the origins of Covid-19, including the possibility it leaked from a laboratory, "there's no evidence for any of the theories at this stage," she said, and more might be announced at the end of the G7 meetings this weekend.

"We don't have necessarily the smoking gun on the lab," Clark said.

"China is not an open political system, and that's a constraint. Going forward we're going to need much more openness by all countries when diseases emerge because without openness and transparency it does become harder to fight an emerging pathogen," she said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs