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A dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared in a syringe before a second round of vaccinations were administered at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich, Jan. 5, 2021.
Paul Sancya/AP
NewsHealth

The UK Has Mobilised $1 Billion to Help Get the COVID-19 Vaccine to Low Income Countries

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 3 calls for countries to ensure good health and well-being is accessible to all. Ensuring that poorer countries aren’t left behind in the fight against COVID-19 is an essential part of reaching that goal — because COVID-19 won't be over until it's over for everyone. To find out more about efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines and take action on issues around global health, join us here.

The UK has helped mobilise $1 billion (£740 million) in funding needed to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest people, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) announced on Tuesday. The money will help ensure that no one is left behind as the world deals with the ongoing pandemic.

Pledging started at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2020, when the UK government committed to match-fund every $4 raised globally with £1 of UK aid funding, up to £250 million. That figure was reached by Jan. 12.

The money raised is being funneled to an organisation called the COVAX Advanced Market Mechanism (AMC), a facility set up to ensure that 92 middle- and low-income countries that would not otherwise be able to purchase the vaccine for its citizens can acquire doses and start an immunisation programme.

Although rich countries like the UK and the US have already started vaccinating their citizens in their millions, there has been a much slower start to the process in other parts of the world. While some middle-income countries had began administering vaccines by the end of December, none of the poorest countries in the world have yet started to administer vaccines. 

Low-income countries face myriad challenges in acquiring and distributing the vaccines, not only in terms of the cost but also because many lack the necessary infrastructure to store and transport the doses. 

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As well as those practical issues, poorer countries are also hindered by the fact that wealthy countries are reserving and buying up the lions share of doses. 

In December, a group of NGOs representing the People’s Vaccine Alliance, including Oxfam and Amnesty International, warned that rich nations had bought up 53% of the vaccines so far, despite housing only 14% of the world population. This, they warn, has put poorer countries months and perhaps even years, behind more wealthy neighbours on the road to getting vaccinated and protected from COVID-19.

The COVAX Facility is being run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a partnership between public and private sectors to increase the accessibility of vaccines — and is part of a global collaborative effort to effectively deal with the pandemic in a way that is equitable and prevents future waves of the virus from spreading.

So far enough funding has been secured to purchase 1 billion doses for these countries. However, the aim is for 2 billion doses to be acquired by the end of 2021, and for at least 20% of the population in middle- and low- income countries to be vaccinated.

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The fundraising has come from private donors, philanthropists, and governments, while the UK’s match-funds have come from the overseas aid budget, or UK aid, managed by the FCDO.

Countries including Canada, Japan, and Germany have also committed funding to the scheme. In total, the UK has contributed £548 million to the COVAX AMC, the FDCO press statement explains.

“It is fitting that, on the 75th anniversary of the UN, the UK has led with our allies to make one billion doses of coronavirus vaccine available to vulnerable countries,” the foreign secretary Dominic Raab said.

“We’ll only be safe from this virus, when we’re all safe – which is why we’re focused on a global solution to a global problem,” he said.