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UN Chief: $35B Needed to Expand Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccine

FILE - Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken Apr. 10, 2020.
FILE - Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken Apr. 10, 2020.

The U.N. secretary-general appealed to the international community Wednesday for $35 billion to rapidly fund equitable global access to COVID-19 tests, therapeutics, and when available, vaccines, as deaths from the coronavirus surpass 1 million.

“It is in every country’s national and economic self-interest to work together to massively expand access to tests and treatments, and to support a vaccine as a global public good — a ‘people’s vaccine’ available and affordable for everyone, everywhere,” Antonio Guterres told a virtual forum on the ACT-Accelerator, the mechanism through which the U.N. is coordinating its response.

The ACT-Accelerator was launched at the end of April as a global collaboration of governments, scientists, private sector and civil society groups to end the pandemic by making sure that not just rich countries get the necessary tools, including vaccines, but that poorer ones do too.

The initiative received an initial $3-billion infusion for its start-up phase and the U.N. chief said it needs an additional $35 billion — $15 billion of that immediately — in order to meet its goals of producing 2 billion vaccine doses, 245 million treatments and 500 million diagnostic tests.

“These resources are crucial now to avoid losing the window of opportunity for advance purchase and production, to build stocks in parallel with licensing, to boost research, and to help countries prepare to optimize the new vaccines when they arrive,” Guterres said.

The initiative’s vaccine arm, known as the COVAX Facility, is supporting the development of nine vaccines, with several more in the pipeline.

“Collaboration is our best hope to bring the pandemic under control and our best hope to keep our economies and our societies open, which can ensure a genuinely collective economic recovery,” event co-host, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said.

His government and several others, including Germany, Sweden and Canada, announced commitments of nearly $1 billion in new financing for the initiative.

Although the U.S. government is not participating, there is private support from American corporations and organizations for the ACT-Accelerator. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has committed up to 500 million vaccine doses to lower income countries to be delivered by mid-2021.

U.S. philanthropist Bill Gates announced in a video message that his foundation had just signed a joint agreement with 16 pharmaceutical companies to scale up the speed and distribution of vaccines once they are approved.

“The companies involved in the agreement are committed to using donations, foregoing profits and using tiered pricing to make their products as affordable as possible,” Gates said.

The World Bank president said his institution will make vaccine funding available to low- and middle-income developing countries.

“I have proposed to our board to make available up to $12 billion of fast track financing to countries for the purchase and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, once the vaccines have been approved by several highly respected, stringent regulatory agencies,” David Malpass said.

U.N. agencies including the World Health Organization and the children’s agency, UNICEF, also will use their vast networks and supply chains to speed COVID-19 vaccines to all parts of the world. UNICEF says it is working to secure more than 2 billion doses by 2021.

More than 150 countries are now committed to or eligible to receive vaccines through the ACT-Accelerator.