Donors give COVID-19 vaccine research a €7.4B boost

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Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, holds a news conference on the European Union’s COVID-19 response at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photo by: REUTERS / Pool

LONDON — A coronavirus pledging conference convened by the European Union has raised €7.4 billion ($8.1 billion) to fund the research and equitable distribution of COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.

The amount raised at the Coronavirus Global Response international pledging event fell short of the €7.5 billion target set by organizers. Still, the virtual summit, attended by dozens of world leaders, was celebrated as a crucial step forward for global solidarity, despite the absence of the U.S. government.

Funders commit to COVID-19 vaccine access but US opts out

WHO on April 24 launched the COV-Access Agreement, signed by 25 key players — though one was notably absent.

One EU development expert likened the event to a “Eurovision for multilateralism,” with repeated commitments to vaccine and medicine equity and affirmations of support for the World Health Organization. But campaigners warned that accountability for the money and tracking what it funds will be crucial.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, moderated the event and began by announcing the organization would “mobilize” €1 billion for the global response to the coronavirus. Donations also came from France, with President Emmanuel Macron pledging €500 million, and from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who announced a €525 million donation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $100 million donation.

At more than €4 billion combined, European donations amounted to the bulk of the day’s pledges, according to von der Leyen.

“The race to discover the vaccine ... is not a competition between countries, but the most urgent shared endeavor of our lifetimes.”

— U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“The world showed extraordinary unity for the common good. … This will be a long fight, and the EU is taking responsibility,” she said, adding that the global response to COVID-19 “must include civil society and the global community of citizens, which are the next milestone in this mission.”

An announcement on the EU’s work with NGOs will be made shortly, according to von der Leyen.

Jenny Ottenhoff, senior policy director of global health at the ONE Campaign, said that she was “extremely impressed” with the money raised and that the event was a “huge win for global solidarity, [demonstrating] massive progress.”

“Just about every world leader that spoke mentioned equity,” Ottenhoff said. “That type of solidarity is, at least rhetorically, the commitment we need. ... I think that’s a huge signal.”

But she added: “The proof is going to be in how the funding is implemented and what policies and additional funding follow today’s event to make sure that rhetoric actually becomes reality. … What we really need to see is these technologies manufactured and delivered across the world.”

Ottenhoff also stressed that “strong accountability” for the new money was needed.

Cecile Vernant, head of the EU office for global development organization Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung, said: “We’re still analyzing the various funding announcements made today, but as ever, it’s as much where the funding will be spent as how much was promised — and making sure that those promises will be kept. Together with our civil society partners, we will be holding all participating organizations to the commitments they made today.”

Not all the major donor announcements made at the event were directed to the EU’s funding. One of the largest pledges of the day came from Norway, which announced $1 billion for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi will play a critical role in distributing any future coronavirus vaccine to low-income countries.

Other significant donors pledged no new money at all. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson highlighted £338 million ($420 million) worth of existing support to fund coronavirus research.

“To win this battle, we must work together to build an impregnable shield around all our people, and that can only be achieved by developing and mass-producing a vaccine,” Johnson said.

He added: “The more we pull together and share our expertise, the faster our scientists will succeed. The race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries, but the most urgent shared endeavor of our lifetimes. It’s humanity against the virus — we are in this together, and together we will prevail.”

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About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.