US & G7 Countries Make US$ 4.3 Billion In New Commitments To COVAX Global Vaccine Facility – Novavax To Provide 1.1 Billion Vaccine Doses 
US President Joe Biden speaking at the Munich Security Conference after the closing of the private G7 meeting on Friday.

The United States is donating an additional US$2 billion to the COVAX facility over the next two years to facilitate the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, while the pharma company Novavax will provide a total of 1.1 billion doses of its vaccine to COVAX – a gesture that could increase the available vaccine supplies for the global facility by one-third for 2021.

The commitment by the US was met by an EU announcement that it would be doubling its COVAX funding, adding an additional €500 million and bringing its total contribution to €1 billion. Germany pledged an additional US$1.8 billion to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the majority of which will go towards COVAX, the vaccine platform. Japan committed US$79 million to COVAX as well as Unitaid, and Canada  pledged US$59 million. 

The commitments bring the total funding for the ACT Accelerator to US$10.3 billion, leaving a funding gap of US$22.9 billion for 2021 to fully fund the Accelerator’s work.

In addition, the UK and France commited to share some of their surplus doses with low-and middle-income countries after a report that rich countries have stockpiled at least 1 billion vaccine doses more than they need to immunize all of their citizens.

Rush of Pledges Coincides With G-7 Meeting

The rush of new pledges coincided with Friday’s meeting of the Group of 7 (G-7) most industrialised countries, currently led by the United Kingdom, and including the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. 

After its meeting on Friday, the G7 leaders released a statement resolving to cooperate to: “accelerate global vaccine development and deployment; work with industry to increase manufacturing capacity, including through voluntary licensing; improve information sharing, such as on sequencing new variants; and, promote transparent and responsible practices, and vaccine confidence.”

These commitments come amid criticisms that wealthy nations are hoarding vaccines through bilateral deals and purchasing more doses than is needed to inoculate their populations.

In an address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres revealed that 10 countries have administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines, while over 130 countries have not received a single dose, and less than 1% of doses have been administered in the 32 countries facing severe humanitarian crises.

Guterres called the current global vaccine rollout “wildly uneven and unfair” and urged the G7 to create momentum to mobilise the necessary financial resources.

Team Europe Pledges European Efforts Will Have Global Impacts 

“With this new financial boost we want to make sure vaccines are soon delivered to low and middle-income countries,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in a press release Friday. “Because we will only be safe if the whole world is safe.”

“Vaccines produced in Europe are now going all over the world and we, as Team Europe, are working to share doses secured under our advanced purchase agreements preferably through COVAX with the Western Balkans, Neighborhood and Africa – benefiting above all health workers and humanitarian needs,” said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. 

The WHO welcomed the new financial commitments from the US, France, Germany, UK and EU to COVAX, which it described as the mechanism “best positioned to deliver vaccines to the world and end the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“There is a growing movement behind vaccine equity and I welcome that world leaders are stepping up to the challenge by making new commitments to effectively end this pandemic by sharing doses and increasing funds to COVAX,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, in a press release

“There is an urgent need for countries to share doses and technology, scale up manufacturing and ensure that there is a sustainable supply of vaccines so that everyone, everywhere can receive a vaccine,” Tedros added. 

Novavax Commitment to COVAX

Meanwhile, Novavax also announced that the company had it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, to provide COVAX with 1.1 billion cumulative doses of its vaccine candidate. 

The agreement includes the Serum Institute of India, which has a partnership with Novavax to manufacture the vaccine and ensure the broad and equitable distribution of the vaccine in low- and middle-income countries. 

Gavi had earlier signed an agreement with the Serum Institute to supply COVAX with 100 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, forecasted for delivery in the second quarter of 2021. Gavi and Novavax now currently working to finalise an advance purchase agreement on the new commitment of 1.1 billion doses for COVAX. 

COVAX’s preliminary forecast of COVID-19 vaccines for 2021 and 2022, as of 20 January – and prior to the recent agreement with Novavax.

“We are proud to partner with all the COVAX collaborators and Serum Institute of India to provide global public health leadership and ensure that all countries have broad access to NVX-CoV2373,” said Stanley C. Erck, CEO of Novavax, in a press release. “Novavax will play a critical role in the worldwide effort to provide access to safe and effective vaccines to end the pandemic.”

The vaccine candidate is “poised to play a significant role in combating COVID-19 around the world,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). 

“This agreement brings the COVAX Facility one step closer to its goal of supplying vaccines globally and ending the acute phase of the pandemic,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, in a press release“It helps us close in on our goal of delivering two billion doses in 2021 and increases the range of vaccines available to us as we build a portfolio suitable for all settings and contexts.” 

While the Novavax vaccine has not yet received regulatory or WHO approval, the vaccine demonstrated an efficacy rate of 89.3% two pivotal Phase 3 trials, including a trial in the United Kingdom where the B.117 variant has become dominant, and efficacy of 95.6 % against the original virus strain. A Phase 2b trial in South Africa demonstrated up to 60 percent efficacy against newly emerging escape variants there.    

The company’s NVX-CoV2373 vaccine is based upon a recombinant nanoparticle technology that generates antigens derived from the coronavirus spike (S) protein and is adjuvanted with Novavax’ patented saponin-based Matrix-M™ to enhance the immune response and stimulate high levels of neutralizing antibodies.i  The antigen can neither replicate, nor can it cause COVID-19. In preclinical studies, NVX-CoV2373 induced antibodies that block binding of spike protein to cellular receptors and provided protection from infection and disease. It was generally well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody response numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera in Phase 1 trials.

UK and France Also Make Pledges to Share Extra Doses

The UK and France also announced significant new plans to share vaccines to ensure a more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. 

Their pledges came in the wake of a report published on Friday by ONE, an organisation campaigning to end poverty, that rich countries have stockpiled one billion more doses than they need to vaccinate their own populations. 

According to ONE, Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, and the US, along with the 27 EU member states could donate one billion doses of vaccines and still have enough doses to inoculate their entire populations. 

While some countries have expanded on their previous financial commitments to COVAX, the UK announced that it will send the majority of its future surplus vaccines to COVAX and encouraged other member states to follow suit. 

“As leaders of the G7 we must say today: never again” to the COVID-19 pandemic, said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a statement released on Friday. 

“By harnessing our collective ingenuity, we can ensure we have the vaccines, treatments and tests to be battle-ready for future health threats, as we beat COVID-19 and build back better together,” he added.

In addition to a commitment to share vaccines, Johnson revealed an ambitious plan to reduce the time to develop vaccines for new diseases by two-thirds, aiming to achieve new vaccines in 100 days instead of the unprecedented 300 days it took to develop COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccine-sharing was supported by Emmanuel Macron, France’s President, who urged Europe and the US to allocate up to 5% of their vaccine supplies to low- and middle-income countries, particularly to countries in Africa, in order to play a greater role in the diplomatic vaccine battle. 

“We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries,” said Macron in an interview with the Financial Times on Thursday. “That idea is unsustainable.”

“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” Macron said. “You can see the Chinese strategy, and the Russian strategy too,” referring to moves from China and Russia to use their vaccines to buy influence in low- and middle-income countries. 

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, at the Munich Security Conference on Friday.

Doses of China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines have been donated to Zimbabwe, Brunei, Laos, the Philippines, and Cambodia, among others, while Russia has offered the African Union (AU) 300 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, along with a financing package for the 55 members of the AU. 

According to Macron, transferring “3-5 percent of the vaccines we have in stock to Africa” wouldn’t delay domestic inoculation programmes “by a single day.” 

Macron’s comments were praised by WHO officials on Thursday, with Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to WHO’s Director-General, calling this a “fantastic development.” 

Aylward appealed to member states to avoid making special vaccine-sharing arrangements outside of COVAX, which is “the best mechanism and the only global mechanism set up” to ensure the equitable allocation of vaccines. 

“We are encouraging that in the interest of equity and the most equitable distribution possible, those doses go through the COVAX facility, because that way we can coordinate across a massive number of countries and ensure everyone is getting served,” said Aylward at a press briefing on Thursday.

US Staged Rollout Of Donations 

“Today, I’m announcing the United States is making a $2 billion pledge to COVAX with the promise of an additional $2 billion to urge others to step up as well,” said President Biden at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, which was held hours after the G7 meeting ended.

The first US$500 million will be made available when the initial COVAX doses begin to be delivered to 92 low- and middle-income countries eligible for donor-supported vaccine distribution through Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance’s Advance Market Commitment (AMC) platform. 

Another US$1.5 billion will be donated in 2021 and the remaining US$2 billion by the end of 2022. In total, the US will provide COVAX with US$4 billion in funding. 

The majority of the funds will support direct vaccine procurement, while some funds will be invested in improving country readiness and vaccine service delivery. 

“The goal is clear: vaccinate vulnerable populations, and reach those without other options,” said a White House statement released ahead of the meeting, which marks new US President Joe Biden’s first major multilateral engagement. 

Following the announcement, both Seth Berkley and Dr Tedros expressed their thanks to President Biden, with Tedros explaining at the Munich Security Conference that the importance is “not the funding. The US is the major funder of WHO…[but] it’s not the money. It’s the global leadership of the US, its global role is key.”

This pledge was also intended to encourage other G7 members to increase their contributions.

“We want to turn this into a way to translate $2 billion into several billion dollars, up to at least $15 billion,” a White House official told Reuters

“We also call on our G7 and other partners to work alongside Gavi, to bring in billions more in resources to support global COVID-19 vaccinations, and to target urgent vaccine manufacturing, supply, and delivery needs,” said the statement released on Thursday. 

“This funding from the Administration will enable Gavi to address urgent needs, while also supporting efforts to diversify and increase contributions from other donors in 2021,” the statement concluded.

Image Credits: Munich Security Conference, Gavi.

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