Global vaccines program gets $8.8-B shot in the arm

By Agence France-Presse

Governments around the world on Thursday pledged $8.8 billion for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) to help immunization programs disrupted by coronavirus, prompting calls for global cooperation to ensure a potential COVID-19 vaccine is available to all.

The online meeting beat a target to raise $7.4 billion to provide vaccines at a much reduced cost to 300 million children worldwide over the next five years.

GAVI also launched a new initiative to purchase potential COVID-19 vaccines, scale-up production and support de - livery to developing nations, which raised $567 million in seed money.

''Together, we rise to fulfill the greatest shared endeavor of our lifetimes — the triumph of humanity over disease,'' said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the summit.

''Today we make the choice to unite, to forge a path of global cooperation.''

Scientists around the world are racing to develop and test a coronavirus vaccine and Unit - ed Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it must be available to everyone.

''A vaccine must be seen as a global public good – a peo - ple's vaccine, which a growing number of world leaders are calling for,'' he said in a video message.

There needs to be ''global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access.''

The pandemic has exposed new ruptures in international cooperation, notably with US President Donald Trump's de - cision to pull out of the World Health Organization (WHO).

But GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley insisted there must be a ''global perspective.''

''At the end of the day, if you have large outbreaks of COVID anywhere in the world, it threatens the world,'' he said.

Doesn't discriminate

The United States pledged $1.16 billion to GAVI's fund - raising drive, and Trump sent a recorded message to the conference.

''As the coronavirus has shown, there are no borders. It doesn't discriminate,'' he said.

''It's mean, it's nasty. But we can all take care of it to - gether... we will work hard. We will work strong.''

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 6.5 million and killed over 385,000 people since emerging in China last December, according to an AFP tally of official sources.

If a vaccine is developed, Microsoft founder Gates said GAVI hoped to be able to buy it for the poorest countries.

He said pharmaceutical companies had been working together to try to secure the required production capacity.

''It's been amazing, the pharmaceutical companies stepping up to say 'yes, even if our vaccine is not the best, we will make our factories avail - able','' he told BBC radio.

Immunizations disrupted

Stay-at-home orders have been imposed across the world to stem the spread of corona - virus, causing huge economic disruption and the suspension of routine immunization pro - grams for preventable diseases such as measles and polio.

The WHO, UN children's agency UNICEF, and GAVI warned last month that vac - cine services were disrupted in nearly 70 countries, affect - ing some 80 million children under the age of one.

Polio eradication drives were suspended in dozens of countries, while measles vac - cination campaigns were also put on hold in 27 countries, UNICEF said.