Funding COVID-19 vaccines: A timeline

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Vials of vaccine on a production line in Zelenograd near Moscow, Russia. Photo by: The Russian Direct Investment Fund / Andrey Rudakov / Handout via REUTERS

CANBERRA — In the race to create a vaccine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, funding is a critical component. An analysis of data available on the Devex funding database reveals over $39.5 billion in funding has been announced for vaccine research and development, in addition to planning for vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

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The announcements, tracked between Jan. 1 and Aug. 16, show that vaccine support and development are priorities for funding by governments, bilateral and multilateral organizations, NGOs, and the private sector. In tracking where this $39.5 billion is being directed, the Devex data has seen this support $644 million in implemented programs, $100.3 million distributed through contracts, and $92.7 million provided through grants.

The timeline of funding shows that concern around the COVID-19 risk was emerging early — with the urgency reaching a peak between May and June. Now, funding is focused on distribution — and countries are jostling to ensure they are first in line for distribution when a vaccine is approved.


The growing threat of a pandemic leads to research in vaccine development

It was not until March that COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. But before this time, investment was already being made in vaccine research.

On Feb. 3, the U.K. Department for International Development announced £20 million to ramp up vaccine development — including three new programs for COVID-19 vaccines. “These projects aim to advance 2019-nCoV vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible,” DFID said in the announcement.

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Philanthropy quickly followed, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust advocating for research and development. The Gates Foundation announced $100 million to “strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.” Supporting this initiative, Wellcome Trust joined to add $13 million.

With the initial phase of the pandemic focused on China, philanthropy in the country was also focused on vaccines — including from the Jack Ma Foundation, which announced $2 million in drug development responding to COVID-19.

The private sector was also concerned with the emerging trends, seeing investments for vaccine development occurring in Vietnam and China.

By the end of February, $254 million in funding announcements had been made.

When the pandemic was declared, the level of concern from governments increased, requiring a financial investment in vaccine research and development that then emerged in the funding data. A Norweigan appeal for funding led to pledges from Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Australia and Canada also stepped up in vaccine investment at this time, contributing to the $2.2 billion in new announcements during March.

Diverse funders from governments, philanthropy, bilateral organizations, and the private sector continued to drive investment in April, with new announcements totaling $1.1 billion.

The funding boom

In May, the new funding announcements jumped to $22 billion. The global impacts of the pandemic — health, social, and economic — were evident at this stage, with more than 4 million COVID-19 cases globally.

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The European Commission co-hosted a pledging extravaganza in a bid to draw in more companies and philanthropic donors.

Driving this boost was a pledging summit organized by the European Commission and Global Citizen, mobilizing €15.9 billion to enable “universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus.”

The boom continued in June, adding $12.7 billion. This was led by the $8.8 billion pledged to continue the work of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, with a focus on rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries as discussions became increasingly concerned with access. China also provided a billion-dollar loan to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to support vaccine access, and the European Union put aside $2.7 billion to procure vaccines for its member countries.

The drop-off

Without any further pledging summits, July and August have seen a dramatic drop in new funding announcements, which continue to focus on vaccine access and manufacturing. But August has seen an increase in funding being translated into action; contracts and grants have grown with $95.3 million disseminated by Aug. 16 as work turns to preparing for a vaccine rollout.

The Gates Foundation has announced $15 million to evaluate vaccine safety, and ensuring reliable vaccine information has seen $75.5 million in the U.S. Investing in programs that build confidence in the safety of vaccines is likely to continue, with reopening of economies reliant on populations being protected from the deadly virus.

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About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.