World leaders pledge $3.2 billion at Covax summit in push for Covid-19 vaccine equity

The total number of doses donated by countries with a surplus now amounts to more than 132 million. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO -About US$2.4 billion (S$3.2 billion) and 54 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines were pledged by some 40 world and business leaders on Wednesday (June 2) to the Covax facility, which will give lower-income countries a better shot at protecting themselves.

They were led by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's pledge of US$800 million at the virtual Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC) summit, co-hosted by Japan and the Gavi vaccine alliance, which coordinates Covax, the facility to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines.

"To overcome the crisis we now face, we need solidarity and commitment," Mr Suga said, noting the challenge "cannot be met by one country alone".

Responding to the rallying call were countries like Australia, the Philippines, Spain and the United States, as well as not-for-profit entities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Companies such as Toyota Tsusho, the trading arm of Japan's Toyota Group, and UBS Bank also made donations.

Gavi Board chair Jose Manuel Barroso said with Wednesday's donations, contributions in total added up to US$9.6 billion for the procurement of vaccines and US$775 million for their delivery.

The total number of doses donated by countries with a surplus now amounts to more than 132 million. Before the summit on Wednesday, the Covax initiative had already raised US$7 billion. The pledges exceed the shortfall of US$1.3 billion estimated by Gavi to secure the 1.8 billion doses needed to inoculate 30 per cent of the population in 92 low-income countries by the end of the year.

The summit noted that more than 80 per cent of vaccines administered thus far have been in developed countries, leaving developing countries in the dust with just 0.4 per cent of vaccines.

"We must not allow a country's specific situation or economic power to determine its access to vaccines," Mr Suga said, as he noted the importance of the Covax facility, which has delivered more than 76 million doses to over 120 countries so far.

Japan's pledge of US$800 million comes on top of a previous donation of US$200 million.

Mr Suga said Japan intends to provide around 30 million doses of domestically manufactured vaccines to Covax, with the research and development of vaccines in Japan set to form a key plank in a national strategy against future pandemics announced on Monday.

Universal inoculation is important given the interconnectedness of the global economy, and the unequal availability of vaccines has exposed a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

Scientists say an equitable roll-out worldwide is key to ending the Covid-19 pandemic, with the global community only as strong as its weakest link. Covid-19 continues to rage in Asia even as infections have fallen in countries like the US, Britain and Israel, where immunisation programmes have advanced.

But even rich countries may feel the fallout. The International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation estimated a US$9.2 trillion loss to the global economy - about half of which would be shouldered by major economies - were vaccines not be delivered to low-income countries.

The Rockefeller Foundation said in an action plan issued on Tuesday (June 1): "As Covid-19 circulates freely in the alleys of Old Delhi and barrios of Sao Paolo, it is rapidly evolving into more infectious and deadly variants that could boomerang back onto wealthy nations and sicken and kill those previously vaccinated."

Ms Eileen O'Connor, senior vice-president for communications, policy and advocacy at the foundation, told The Straits Times that while Wednesday's commitment was a good start, it was still not enough to reach herd immunity in lower-income countries.

"For the global population to be protected, we need to vaccinate at least 60 per cent of populations. This is critically important to stop variants from spreading, breaking through current vaccines and leading to a never-ending cycle of the pandemic," she said, noting that the challenge was now to secure funding for next year.

She added that it was also essential to build up R&D as well as manufacturing capacity in lower-income countries to enable them to build self-reliance for future health crises.

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