Leaders from G7 countries gathered virtually to commit US $4.3 billion to securing COVID-19 treatments and vaccines for low-income countries through the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator on Feb. 19, according to the World Health Organization.
US President Joe Biden committed $2 billion at the event, chaired by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and said that an additional $2 billion would be disbursed at a later date. Other countries from the G7, which refers to the “Group of 7” countries that control more than half of the global economy, chipped in significant sums as well. Germany committed $1.8 billion, while Japan pledged $79 million and Canada promised $59 million.
“This support for the Gavi COVAX AMC shows great commitment to equitable, global access to COVID-19 vaccines and is a major boost to our efforts to end the acute phase of the pandemic,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in a statement.
The WHO notes that the new pledges bring the total amount committed to the ACT-Accelerator to $16.3 billion, bringing the funding gap for the rest of the year to $22.9 billion. The WHO is calling on countries, companies, and philanthropists to cover the remaining amount.
The latest funds will support the ACT Accelerator, a consortium of public health partners and initiatives developed to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACT-Accelerator includes the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), which aims to secure vaccines for low-income countries. COVAX, which the US recently joined, was a key focus for many of the pledges.
The ACT-Accelerator primarily deals with structural inequalities in global health care, pharmaceutical capacity, and public health more broadly. The WHO and other organizations warned that unless interventions were made to ensure equity in the COVID-19 relief effort, the pandemic would be prolonged as vaccination efforts followed a wealthy-countries-first pattern.
Experts said that this would not only exacerbate global poverty, but would also defy medical advice — because if the virus persists anywhere, then new variants could emerge that can lead to outbreaks elsewhere.
“We must work together,” Antonio Gutteres, the UN-Secretary General, said in a statement in January. “COVID-19 does not respect national boundaries. And so we must respect another truth: all countries need some doses now to vaccinate all health‑care and front‑line workers, instead of some countries getting them all.
“We must ensure that these vaccines are seen as a global public good — [a] people’s vaccines — accessible and affordable to all,” he added. “This is in every country’s self-interest. It is also the fastest way to reopen the world economy and start a sustainable recovery.”
These warnings, however, have repeatedly come to fruition. In the beginning of the pandemic, global bidding wars for personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical gear led to shortages in low-income countries. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, meanwhile, has been defined by inequality — more than 205 million doses of the vaccine have been administered worldwide, but the world’s poorest countries have barely received any vaccines at all.
The ACT-Accelerator aims to address these disparities but it can only be successful if it receives funding and countries agree to participate in vaccine sharing schemes.
More than 7,000 people and organizations have signed the WHO’s vaccine equity declaration. The latest pledging effort by G7 countries suggests that the tide may be turning.
“There is a growing movement behind vaccine equity and I welcome that world leaders are stepping up to the challenge by making new commitments to effectively end this pandemic by sharing doses and increasing funds to COVAX,” said Dr. Tedros, director-general of the World Health Organization. “This can’t be business as usual and there is an urgent need for countries to share doses and technology, scale up manufacturing and ensure that there is a sustainable supply of vaccines so that everyone, everywhere can receive a vaccine."