A scene at a COVID-19 testing site in Moquegua, Peru. Photo by: EsSalud / Handout / Latin America News Agency via Reuters

MANILA — A handful of global leaders pledged roughly $1 billion on Wednesday at a high-level event for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, with the bulk of it going to vaccines. Several pharmaceutical companies also made commitments ensuring broad distribution of COVID-19 tools.

However, around half of the funding had already been announced prior to the event, and still leaves the accelerator with a massive funding shortfall.

The ACT-Accelerator, launched in April, is meant to help speed up the development of COVID-19 tools, and ensure their equitable distribution, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries. The accelerator is composed of four pillars — diagnostics, treatments, vaccines, and health systems connectors — and requires $38 billion in funding to deliver on its goals.

“The world is on the brink of a great scientific achievement. A COVID-19 vaccine will likely be ready by early next year. In fact, we'll probably have more than one vaccine ready.”

— Bill Gates, chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Months into the pandemic, however, the accelerator remains severely underfunded, with around $35 billion still needed. Of this amount, the accelerator needs an immediate funding injection of $15 billion.

Much of the world’s focus has been on vaccines. Some government leaders see this as the ultimate solution to the pandemic, despite health experts’ warnings that a vaccine is no silver bullet.

But global interest and demand for a COVID-19 vaccine does not equate to global access. Without a global framework that ensures fair distribution, high-income countries with the financial capabilities could enter into deals — as the United States has done, for example — leaving LMICs behind.

The advance market commitment under the COVAX Facility, a mechanism within the accelerator’s vaccines pillar which was launched in June, is meant to address this challenge by ensuring lower-income countries get equal access to COVID-19 vaccines. The advance market commitment — AMC — aims to deliver 2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccines to LMICs by the end of 2021.

UK joins COVAX scheme on deadline day

It joins at least 76 high-income countries helping to finance the facility for research and equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

But to do this, AMC needs to raise a significant amount of funding. As of Sept. 21, AMC has raised an estimated $700 million of the $2 billion needed by the end of 2020.

“We need to secure $2 billion in urgent funding for the COVAX AMC by December, such that we can ensure reservation of doses for the 92 lower-income countries, and we'll need at least a further [$]5 billion to procure these [vaccines] in 2021,” Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said during the event.

“We will not succeed if lower-income countries are left behind. We will be collectively organizing the largest vaccine campaign in human history. This will require ingenuity and creativity and money, but also reassurance to many of the public who are skeptical of the quality of vaccines,” he said.

Some world leaders responded to the call for funding on Wednesday. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a contribution of $440 million Canadian dollars ($331 million) to the COVAX Facility, half of which will go to the AMC. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced €100 million ($117 million) for the AMC.

“Today, I'm in a position to announce that another €100 million that we have earmarked as special funds for GAVI dedicated to the fight against COVID-19 will be pledged, and they will go into the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment,” she said, adding that Germany has previously made pledges amounting to €675 million, and has also made contributions to the COVAX Facility through the European Union.

“We're quite aware that next year too we will have to continue to support the AMC. What I can do today is to assure you that the federal government is quite aware of the responsibility Germany has, also in year 2021. In our budget debate, which we've just begun, we have also earmarked funds that will go into COVAX and the necessary initiatives,” she said.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven also made an initial pledge of $10 million for the AMC.

During the same event, U.K. Secretary of State Dominic Raab reiterated Britain’s support for the vaccine initiative, noting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent announcement of £500 million ($643 million) for the AMC, a commitment that was included in the event’s final tally although it was originally announced during Johnson’s address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Opinion: The short-sightedness of the COVID-19 vaccine race

To end the acute phase of the pandemic, a vaccine must be available everywhere — not only where it can be afforded. IFRC President Francesco Rocca explains why the Red Cross federation is calling for all governments to support the COVAX Facility.

World Bank President David Malpass meanwhile said he’s encouraged by the bank board’s response to his proposal of up to $12 billion in fast track financing to help LMICs purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines. The $12 billion is part of the $160 billion financing the bank announced in April to help LMICs respond to the pandemic.

“I've had good interaction with our executive directors even this morning on this approach and am encouraged by their response and input,” Malpass said.

Other commitments

Also at the event, Bill Gates announced a new joint agreement between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 16 pharmaceutical companies in which the companies committed to scale up the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure its broad distribution. The companies also committed to “using donations, forgoing profits and using tiered pricing to make their products as affordable as possible,” the billionaire philanthropist said.

The commitment is not limited to vaccines, but it includes companies such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson whose COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of development.

“The world is on the brink of a great scientific achievement. A COVID-19 vaccine will likely be ready by early next year. In fact, we'll probably have more than one vaccine ready,” Gates said, noting these vaccines will allow the world to save millions of lives and help lead to the elimination of COVID-19.

But to eliminate COVID-19 globally, the world needs “the capacity to produce billions of vaccines, the funding to pay for them, and the systems to deliver them everywhere,” he added.

Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky said the company is committed to ensuring equitable access to its candidate COVID-19 vaccine — if found to be safe and effective.

“As part of our commitment, today we plan to allocate up to 500 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries, with delivery beginning mid next year. And recognizing the unique global demand for COVID-19 vaccines, our team is working tirelessly to further expand the number of available doses,” he said.

Amina Mohammed, U.N. deputy secretary-general, said that if the commitments were operationalized quickly, it would help reduce the ACT-Accelerator’s immediate financial gap from $15 billion to an estimated $14 billion. However, she also pointed out there are other pillars in the ACT-Accelerator that require investments.

“The therapeutics, diagnostics, and health systems pillars ... all face significant immediate financing gaps, so we must do the funding for everything,” she said.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.