One year on, backers of a giant global program to develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments warned Friday the pandemic would not end without a renewed world effort.
The Access to COVID Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a multi-billion-dollar internationally-coordinated attempt to find ways to beat the pandemic, made rapid strides in speeding up vaccine development — though a Covid cure remains elusive.
The scheme is seeking $22 billion this year to further the assault on the pandemic, but only has $11.1 billion in commitments so far.
“At the one-year anniversary of the launch of the ACT-Accelerator, world leaders face a choice: invest in saving lives by treating the cause of the pandemic everywhere, now, or continue to spend trillions on the consequences with no end in sight,” the scheme said in an impact report.
“The time to act is now.
“It is the fastest and most effective way to save lives, protect health systems and restore economies.”
ACT said the cost was less than one percent of what governments are spending on stimulus packages to reboot COVID-scarred economies.
At its launch on April 25 last year, the pandemic was still in its infancy.
The death toll — now more than three million — stood at around 190,000, while only 2.7 million people had been infected, compared to nearly 144 million confirmed cases today.
The launch saw world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron, UN chief Antonio Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa issue the call for global investment in finding solutions.
“Today, the world has rapid diagnostic tests, repurposed treatments, and vaccines, but faces an accelerating virus that is mutating into more transmissible and more harmful variants — risking the efficacy of our current tools to fight the disease,” ACT said.
COVID-19 “continues to wreak havoc”.
Whilst little was known 12 months ago about the new coronavirus, the billionth vaccine dose is set to be injected within the coming days.
The ACT launch gave birth to the Covax facility to ensure poorer countries could access eventual vaccines, fearing — with justification, as it turned out — a scramble for jabs.
Just 0.2 percent of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the world’s population.
Covax has so far shipped more than 40.5 million vaccine doses to 118 participating territories.
It is aiming to supply at least two billion vaccine doses this year, of which 1.3 billion will be for the 92 lowest-income participants, with the cost covered by donors.
On vaccines, one of the key problems now is manufacturing doses on the unprecedented scale required — and the supply chain constraints associated with it.
Tests and treatments
On the tests pillar, reliable antigen rapid diagnostic tests that can be done outside of laboratories were developed and ready for procurement within eight months.
Francoise Vanni, communications director for the Global Fund financing organisation for combating epidemics, said the testing rate in rich countries was currently about 80 times higher than elsewhere.
“This inequity is basically a global health risk for all of us,” she told reporters.
“We need to continue monitoring the virus among the vaccinated population,” she added, to keep track of what SARS-CoV-2 is up to.
Meanwhile on treatments, ACT supported 15 clinical trials, investigating 21 therapies in 47 countries, with 85,000 patients enrolled.
It supported research that identified dexamethasone as the first life-saving therapy for COVID-19. It remains the only treatment for the disease approved by the World Health Organization.
“So far, despite a huge effort on the research, we don’t have yet a therapeutic that can kill the virus,” added Philippe Duneton, the executive director of Unitaid, which works on innovations on major diseases and is co-leading the ACT therapeutics arm.