WHO chief calls for solidarity in financing COVID-19 vaccine

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the media in Geneva: (Credit: AFP/Fabrice Coffrimi)

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that six months after first sounding the international alarm over COVID-19, the UN agency now intensely focuses on shepherding global vaccine candidates through the necessary trials, and guaranteeing rapid, fair and equitable access to them for all countries.

With the ripple effects of the pandemic upending people’s lives, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that to move forward; “the best bet is to do it together”, as he also briefed reporters from Geneva on the latest developments.

Phases two and three

Among them, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, launched in April, has shown results, Tedros also said; with nine vaccine candidates in the COVAX portfolio now advancing through Phase 2 or 3 trials.

The portfolio, already the broadest in the world, is expanding, he added. Countries representing 70 percent of the global population have registered or expressed interest in being part of the initiative.

In terms of therapeutics; he said that the firstly-proven therapy for severe COVID-19, dexamethasone is now scaling up. More than 50 tests are in evaluation; and new evidence generated around rapid antigen detection tests that could be “game changing”.

IMF: Pandemic to cost $12tn over two years

Stressing that the ACT Accelerator is the only global framework for ensuring the fair and equitable allocation of COVID-19 tools, he also said that to succeed, it must be properly financed.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates the pandemic is costing $375bn a month and predicts a $12tn cumulative loss to the global economy over two years.

The G-20 group of leading economies alone, has mobilized more than $10tn in fiscal stimulus, to treat and mitigate the consequences of the pandemic — three and a half times what the world dispensed to address the global financial crisis of 2008.

ACT Accelerator, a bargain

By contrast, funding the ACT Accelerator will cost a “tiny fraction” compared to the alternative; where economies retract further and require continued fiscal stimulus packages, Tedros said.

Before spending another $10tn on the consequences of the next wave, he said the world would need to spend at least $100bn on new tools; especially any newly-developed vaccines.

The most immediate need is $31.3bn for the ACT Accelerator — the only up-and-running initiative that brings together all the global research and development, manufacturing, regulatory stipulations, purchasing and procurement needed, to end the pandemic.

Spread the risk, share the reward

“Picking individual winners is an expensive risky gamble,” he said. “The ACT Accelerator enables governments to spread the risk and share the reward.”

To be sure, development of vaccines is long, complex, risky and expensive, Tedros said; noting that the vast majority fail in the early stages.

The world also needs multiple vaccine candidates to maximize the chances of finding a winner that works.

‘Vaccine nationalism’

Excess demand and competition for supply is already accelerating “vaccine nationalism” and risk of price gauging, he said: “The kind of market failure that only global solidarity, public investment and engagement can solve.”

Traditional development assistance can’t cover ACT Accelerator funding gap alone, he also said. The best solution is blend of development assistance and financing from stimulus packages. It is the fastest way to end the pandemic and ensure swift global recovery.

Globally coordinated vaccine roll-out will have multiplier effect

Stimulus investments and the globally coordinated roll-out of new vaccines, tests and therapeutics, will have a major multiplier effect on global economies.

“There is hope”, he also said. “If we all deploy tools at our disposal today, and collectively invest in new ones through the Accelerator; we have a route out of this pandemic.”

Ebola in DRC

Dr. Tedros also addressed the latest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Equateur province; a worrying development with 86 cases.

While the geographic spread of the outbreak is vast, with many areas only accessible by helicopter or boat; he said 100 WHO staff are working with the Health Ministry; UN agencies; non-governmental organizations and other partners, to stamp out infection.

In addition, he said WHO released $2.5mn from its contingency fund for emergencies and its regional emergency response fund to support immediate needs.

To end the outbreak; WHO needs additional funding and the agency is working with surrounding provinces and neighboring countries to enhance preparedness, he also said.

“This is not just a matter for a country’s health security,” Tedros assured. “It is a matter of global health security.”

Whether it is COVID-19, Ebola or other high impact epidemics, the world must be ready and respond quickly. “Our best chance to be successful is always do it together.” — UN News