World Bank Unleashes US$12 Billion in “Fast-Track” Finance For COVID-19 Vaccine Purchases By Low- And Middle-Income Countries
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces US$440 million for the COVAX vaccine pool at today’s highl-level UN General Assembly event.

The World Bank will make available up to $12 billion in “fast-track financing” that low- and middle-income countries can access to procure vaccines against Covid-19 – as soon as one is approved, said the Bank’s president David Malpass, on Wednesday.

The announcement at a United Nations high-level panel on the pandemic that also included commitments from the big pharma firm Johnson&Johnson, Bill Gates and numerous heads of states – marks the first serious flow of finance into an ambitious global vaccine pool.  The “Covax” vaccine pool is part of a World Health Organization co-sponsored Act Accelerator initiative to raise some $35 billion to finance 2 billlion vaccine doses, as well as diagnostic tests and treatments, for low- and middle-income countries across the globe.

A handful of rich countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, also announced nearly $670 milllion in new pledges to the “Covax” pool, which is co-sponsored by the WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Some 168 rich and poor countries have joined the pool, in an unprecedented show of solidarity. But until today, the vaccine facility had only secured $3 billion in donations, far short of the billions that WHO and its partners have said they would need to roll out vaccines in 92 low- and middle-income countries that can’t afford to pay.

In another precedent for the fund-raising effort, Alex Gorsky, CEO of the pharma giant Johnson&Johnson also pledged to “allocate up to 500 million doses” of its Covid-19 vaccine to lower-income countries – should its candidate now under development pass Phase 3 trials with results showing it is safe and effective. Trials were launched just last week for company’s vaccine candidate, which is the only one that would require just one dose. Other vaccines in advanced R&D stages, by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, would require two doses.

Gorsky did not elaborate on whether his offer meant that the company would donate the vaccines outright or offer them at a reduced price.  However he underlined that,  “having access to life saving COVID diagnostics therapeutics or vaccines… shouldn’t depend on where you live, whether you’re rich or poor, and whether you live in an industrialized country or in an emerging economy. The COVID-19 virus does not care about any of those things, and neither do we.

“Decisive collaborative action itnow will help us beat this pandemic and better prepare us for the future virus outbreaks.”

Also at the event, Bill Gates announed that his  Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had signed an agreement with a coalition of 16 pharmaceutical companies and the to cooperate on vaccine manufacturing and to scale up production.

Funds Mark Step Towards Goals, But More Funding Still Needed
Bill Gates, chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at the UN General Assembly event

Altogether, WHO and Gavi have said that some $15 billion is needed immediately to began making the manufacturing orders and planning distribution networks that would allow for the massive rollout of a vaccine in 2021. The US$ 12 billion in World Bank finance goes a long way towards that, most immediate goal.

Among the individual countries making fresh pledges to the COVAX global pool, Canada made the largest outright commitment of $440 million, including $220 million as a donation to low-income countries. But the United Kingdom upped the ante, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, pledging to donate up to £250 million ($322 million) more to match new pledges from other countries. That benchmark was met and then exceeded as Germany and Sweden also threw new cash into the pool, for €100 million and $10 milliion respectively.

Said World Bank President David Malpass: “I’ve proposed to our board to make available up to $12 billion of fast track financing to countries for the purchase and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. Once the vaccines have been approved by several highly respected stringent regulatory agencies. This additional financing will be to low and middle income developing countries that don’t have adequate access and will help them alter the course of the pandemic for their people. “Our vaccine financing is additional to the COVID fast track health financing we announced in March, and it’s an important part of bank group’s intention to make available $160 billion in grants and financial support over a 15 month period to help developing countries respond to the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.”

The World Bank’s pledge, together with a total of nearly $US 3 billion in commitments secured from national and philanthropic donors, means that most of the funds required to get 92 low-income countries access to the vaccine pool have now been secured. High-income countries, on the other hand, will pay for their vaccines, with flexible pre-purchase agreements that will allow them to get the best vaccine options for their nation as well as to trade in their vaccine “shares”, in some cases, according to national needs. ,

However, according to the WHO’s investment case, another $22 billion more in funding would still be needed for the other two pillars of the so-called ACT Accelerator initiative, including hundreds of millions of units of COVID treatments and protective gear and 500 million rapid COVID tests – 120 milliion of which WHO is already planning to roll out in low- and middle-income countries that lack the equipment for expensive PCR laboratory tests.

The new funding for COVAX, largely closes the finance needs for vaccines. However, billions of dollars still need to be raised for tests and treatments.

Still, that is remarkable progrss for the ACT Initiative, which was launched by the WHO together with the European Commission, France and the Gates Foundation five months ago.

Said Gates, “One thing I’ve learned studying the history of pandemics is that they create a surprising dynamic when it comes to self-interest and altruism. Pandemics are rare cases where a country’s instinct to help itself is tightly aligned with its instinct to help others. The self-interested thing and the altruistic thing–making sure poor nations have access to vaccines–are one and the same.

“A number of countries, most recently the United Kingdom and Canada, are good models for what other wealthy nations should do. They have donated enough money for COVAX, the vaccine pillar of the ACT-Accelerator, to procure, probably, hundreds of millions of vaccine doses for poor countries. But more will be needed and I hope wealthy nations will continue to be generous.”

Image Credits: NIAID, UNGA, WHO .

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