Financial support for Covid-19 vaccination efforts in low-income countries received a boost of $ 2.4 billion on Wednesday when world leaders gathered at a virtual summit co-hosted by the Japanese government and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The funds were pledged by richer countries, foundations and private companies. Five countries – Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Spain and Sweden – also announced new plans to share a total of 54 million doses of their national supplies with countries in need.
Support is primarily intended for Covax, a year-old initiative promoting equity in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. It has shipped over 77 million doses to 127 countries and is led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Funds were sought to purchase additional vaccines for countries least able to afford them as well as to invest in new vaccine candidates. “The ability to pay shouldn’t determine whether someone is protected from this virus,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi.
Yet, to date, only 0.4% of all Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who spoke during the the meeting. In many countries, even the most vulnerable adults and health workers have not been immunized.
Dr Berkley said that on average, rich countries have vaccinated more than a third of their population while low-income countries have vaccinated less than 1%.
It remains to be seen how quickly the richest countries keep their pledges to share the doses; most of the previously announced freebies have yet to be delivered.
The biggest new financial commitment, $ 800 million, came from Japan, which also said it would potentially share 30 million doses of locally produced vaccines. To date, it has only administered around 14 million shots to its own population.
The United States previously announced $ 2 billion in support for Covax, and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at the summit meeting, but did not respond to ongoing calls for the United States to speak. United are acting faster to share their vaccine supply, especially as their rising vaccination rates from Covid-19 drop dramatically. “Our collective future depends on the collective response to the global crisis,” Ms. Harris said. “The challenge ahead is to provide equal access. “
She added: “People are still contracting Covid-19. People are still dying every day. And that’s why we need to work together to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible in every country in the world. “
New commitments came from France, Switzerland, Australia, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mexico and Vietnam, among others. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard and the Visa Foundation were among the institutions that committed funds, and the European Investment Bank announced additional funding to support cost sharing with African Union countries.
As of Wednesday, $ 9.6 billion had been raised for Covax’s Advanced Market Engagement, a funding mechanism aimed at securing vaccines for low- and middle-income economies.