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Leaders seek 'quantum leap’ for vaccines

More than 30 nations pledged to help 10 international organizations raise US$35 billion for fast-tracking coronavirus tests, medicines and vaccines.

GENEVA (AN) — More than 30 nations on Thursday pledged to help a global collaboration among 10 international organizations raise US$35 billion for speeding development and production of coronavirus tests, medicines and vaccines worldwide.

Heads of state and ministers attending the collaboration's inaugural meeting, co-led by South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa and Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solber, said in a statement afterward they fully support the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, coordinated by the World Health Organization and European Commission.

"We share the vision of the ACT-Accelerator as a unique international collaboration to fast track the development and equitable deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics globally while strengthening related health systems," participants said in the statement.

Ramaphosa told the first meeting of the newly formed ACT-A Facilitation Council that the push for an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine "should be regarded as a public good" for the benefit of all.

"We cannot achieve universal health coverage when the COVID-19 vaccine is available only to countries that are well resourced, in terms of research, manufacturing, distribution and service," he said.

There is no guarantee that scientists will find a vaccine and, even if one is found, it will not end the Covid-19 pandemic on its own, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Other tools such as lockdowns, face masks and changes in behavior are also needed.

Tedros said the ACT-Accelerator is vital to help "rapidly scale up our clinical trials, manufacturing, licensing and regulation capacity so that these products can get to people and start saving lives."

So far, it has received about US$3 billion, which is less than 10% of what is needed, according to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

"The ACT-Accelerator is the global solution we are looking for. Now we need to make important political choices if the world is to reap its promise," Guterres told the meeting.

"First, we need a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again," he said. "The US$3 billion contributed to date has been critical as a seed funding for the startup phase of the ACT-Accelerator.  But we now need US$35 billion more to go from ‘startup’ to ‘scale up and impact.' "

'New solutions' needed fast

There have been 28 million people with confirmed coronavirus infections and 900,000 deaths worldwide, along with more than 18 million people who have recovered from COVID-19. Globally, that comes to about 3,600 cases per 1 million people globally.

The United States, India and Brazil account for a combined 15 million of the confirmed infections, nearly 400,000 deaths and 10.5 million recoveries.

After WHO declared on March 11 that COVID-19 had become a pandemic, the  ACT-Accelerator was launched in April at an event co-hosted by Tedros, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The idea is to ensure that everyone in the world will have equal access to life-saving tests, medicines and vaccines.

"We recognize that the fastest and most effective solution to the COVID-19 crisis, and the full mitigation of its health, social and economic consequences, is through global multilateral collaboration and international solidarity that supports all countries and populations, including the world’s poorest and at-risk populations such as women and children," participants said.

The collaboration spans governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, philanthropists and 10 global health organizations.

Those are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI; Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, or FIND; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Unitaid; Wellcome Trust; WHO; World Bank; and the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents, or GFF.

The European Commission has already pledged €400 million, or US$474 million, for the COVAX Facility, a multilateral effort to accelerate development and production of COVID-19 vaccines and guarantee all nations have fair and equitable access.

The COVAX Facility — which is part of the ACT-Accelerator — is co-led by Gavi and WHO, both based in Geneva, along with CEPI, based in Oslo, Norway.

But the ACT-Accelerator has to compete for resources with bilateral deals among nations such as the United States, Britain and Japan, along with the European Union, in the race for COVID-19 vaccines.

"We need new solutions for prevention, testing and treatment of COVID-19. We all know we need them fast," von der Leyen told the meeting, adding that globally up to 95% of the world's population is still at risk of infection from the pandemic.

"We need them for all those in need, anywhere, and we need them on affordable conditions," she said. "And this is the mission and the spirit of the ACT-Accelerator."