More than 30 countries including Canada have committed a record US$8.8-billion to fund a global vaccination organization for the next five years, but they came up short in pledging money for a specific COVID-19 inoculation program.
The commitments came Thursday during a Global Vaccine Summit that was hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The virtual event included video presentations from dozens of world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Several business leaders and philanthropists such as Bill Gates also participated.
Mr. Trump made a surprise appearance with a brief address that seemed at odds with his recent denouncement of the World Health Organization, which the U.S. has now stopped funding. On Thursday, Mr. Trump struck a more conciliatory tone and called on nations to work together to fight the virus.
"As the coronavirus has shown, there are no borders,” he said. “It doesn’t discriminate. It’s mean. It’s nasty. But we’re going to all take care of it together. It’s great to be partnering with you. We will work hard. We will work strong. Send my regards to Boris and good luck. Let’s get the answer.”
The money raised at the summit will fund the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or Gavi, which was created in 2000 to run vaccination programs for children in developing countries. In total, a record US$8.8-billion was raised on Thursday to cover Gavi for the next five years.
The biggest contribution came from Britain which pledged US$2.1-billion. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated US$1.6-billion and the U.S. government contributed US$1.16-billion, making it the third largest donor.
Canada has pledged $600-million. “In the midst of a global pandemic, it has never been more important to build capacity to respond to disease outbreaks and work with organizations to deliver vaccines,” Mr. Trudeau told the gathering.
Gavi had also made a pitch for a separate US$2-billion fund to buy doses of a future vaccine for COVID-19. However, only US$567-million was raised on Thursday with US$100-million coming from the Gates Foundation. The organization is hoping more money will come in over the next few weeks.
Ensuring that a vaccine for the virus is distributed fairly around the world has become a major challenge for Gavi and other organizations. There has been growing concern that once a vaccine is developed, richer countries will snap up the supply since most of the global drug research and development occurs in wealthy countries. Britain, the U.S. and Germany have already secured guarantees that millions of doses of any vaccine produced in their countries will be set aside for domestic use.
One proposed solution has been for companies to form “patent pools” that would involve drug makers sharing intellectual property to ensure faster development of a vaccine. Patent pools have been common in the technology sector and some other industries, but they have not been used very much in the biomedical field. That’s mainly because pharmaceutical companies typically rely on some market exclusivity to recover the high costs and risks attached to developing a new drug.
Gavi’s chief executive, Seth Berkley, said patent pools weren’t the main obstacles to developing a vaccine. “The challenge is in what’s called ‘know how,’ and that is the 10,000 pages that go with how you make a vaccine and what the process is,” he said on Thursday.
The best way to accelerate production, he added, was for companies to collaborate. “I must say you heard at the summit enormous commitments from the developing country vaccine manufacturers as well as the [multinational] manufacturers, all of whom want to work together to make this a success. So I am optimistic.”
Gavi is also working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global organization set up in 2017, to ensure that 300 million doses of a new vaccine are reserved for developing countries.
Another concern is overcoming fears that a vaccine might not be safe if it is rushed into production. Previous vaccines have taken up to a decade to develop but researchers believe that one for the coronavirus could be available next year.
Educating people about the safety of vaccines is critical, said Joe Cerrell, a managing director at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “I understand that given the time pressures that people are somewhat concerned by the safety profile of some of these vaccines,” he said Thursday.
“It has been distressing the level of vitriol by some who really don’t have a lot of trust in the system and I think we need to do a better job of shoring up that trust.” He added that at a time “when the world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis, it’s distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.”
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