Coronavirus: billions raised in global vaccine drive for world’s poorest children, including US$20 million from China

Mandy Zuo

Governments and organisations around the world have pledged US$8.8 billion to help immunise children in the world’s poorest regions as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts vaccination programmes, leaving young children vulnerable to disease.

The commitments were announced at the Global Vaccine Summit, an online forum hosted by the British government on Thursday, and will be directed to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which buys and distributes vaccines for children in poverty-stricken areas.

Among the donors were health organisations, businesses and more than 30 countries, including China, which contributed US$20 million. Britain was the biggest donor, pledging US$2 billion, while Japan said it would contribute US$300 million. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped establish Gavi two decades ago, pledged US$1.6 billion to the organisation.

“Together we rise to fulfil the greatest shared endeavour of our lifetime – the triumph of humanity over disease, now and for the generations that follow,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his address to the summit, which was also attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Gavi said the money would help supply vaccines against diseases like malaria, pneumonia and HPV, for 300 million children in developing countries over the next five years. Another US$567 million was raised for vaccines against Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That amount goes to a new “advance market commitment” mechanism to enable poorer countries to have access to any effective vaccines against the coronavirus when they become available.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million people die each year from diseases such as polio and measles that can be prevented by vaccines.

Gavi said that the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted global vaccination coverage, leaving 80 million children aged below one year at risk of contracting diseases.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates told the summit that in battling the pandemic, the world was witnessing a “unique time in history”, and there “never have more people been more aware of the importance of vaccines”.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres stressed that any vaccines for Covid-19 should be available for all.

“A Covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people’s vaccine, which a growing number of world leaders are calling for,” Guterres said.

Li said China would double its efforts in vaccine development and treatment for the disease.

“Here in China, we are working around the clock for breakthroughs in vaccines, therapeutics and testing reagents. So far, investment from the Chinese government and private sector in these areas has topped 4 billion yuan (US$562 million) and it is estimated to exceed 10 billion yuan in total,” he said referring to the research efforts for Covid-19.

He also said the Chinese government would encourage the country’s research institutions and vaccine manufacturers to strengthen collaboration with Gavi.

“China has enjoyed good cooperation with Gavi. The alliance helped fund a programme in China involving expanded vaccination and international application of vaccines,” Li said.

Tao Lina, an immunisation specialist who formerly worked at the Shanghai Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said “the [Gavi] event is very meaningful from a humanitarian perspective. It demonstrates we all belong to a community with a shared future.

“I think the WHO should play a bigger role in the current circumstances [of Covid-19]. What Gavi does is to buy and distribute vaccines, and the WHO should coordinate the development of vaccines and resource sharing from a broader perspective.”

About a dozen Covid-19 vaccine candidates are in the early stages of testing, including one developed by Chinese military virologist Chen Wei, which showed promise in an early clinical trial.

British officials have said they hoped a genetically engineered vaccine developed by Oxford University researchers will be available by as early as September.

And US biotech firm Moderna is hoping to have a vaccine ready in the autumn after all 45 recipients in an early trial produced antibodies.

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