Health Org Gets $2B To Give Poor Nations COVID-19 Vaccines

By Sierra Jackson
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Law360 (November 13, 2020, 8:19 PM EST) -- Gavi, a health organization that increases poor countries' access to immunizations, announced Friday that two of its investment funds have surpassed $2 billion in contributions from global public organizations, private institutions and non-profits, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to give poorer countries equal and rapid access to coronavirus vaccines.

The money is intended to support a collaboration between Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, called COVAX, that aims to "accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world," according to Gavi's website.

Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said in a statement that the organization was "incredibly grateful" for the "vital funding," which he said would ensure poor countries weren't "left at the back of the queue." He added that the money would play a key role in ending the pandemic's worst phase globally.

"However, this is not the time to take our foot off the gas," Berkley said. "We urgently need to raise at least an additional US$5 billion by the end of 2021 to ensure equitable distribution of these vaccines to those who need them."

The COVAX collaboration has two branches: the COVAX Facility, which makes investments in promising vaccine candidates to support manufacturing and will eventually distribute the vaccines; and the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, a fund that will help poorer countries' — as defined by Gavi — participation in the investment vehicle, the organization's website says.

Gavi said in Friday's news release that 94 higher income, self-financing countries have already agreed to participate in the COVAX Facility, and another 92 countries with low- and middle-income economies will be able to join with support from the COVAX AMC fund.

The U.S. has not yet joined COVAX, and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether the Trump administration would consider joining.

The latest commitments include €100 million ($118.3 million) from the European Commission and €400 million ($473.4 million) approved by the European Investment Bank on Wednesday, according to the announcement. Gavi said the commitments are a part of a joint venture between the European Commission, the European Union's 27 member states, Norway and Iceland to procure vaccines for the region.

Separately, Gavi said France and Spain confirmed that they would contribute €100 million and €50 million specifically to the COVAX AMC to support poorer countries. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also pledged $50 million to the COVAX AMC, bringing their total commitments to that vehicle to $156 million, according to the press release. And South Korea has said it will give $10 million to the AMC, according to Gavi's press release.

Gavi said that this latest funding round will allow it to reserve and later distribute 1 billion vaccine doses to the eligible low- and middle-income countries. The health organization announced in October that it has already signed a letter of intent to secure 200 million doses of Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine for the COVAX facility.

The COVAX funds are part of a larger partnership called the Access to COVID-19 Tools ACT-Accelerator, which Gavi said aims to accelerate the development, production and distribution of the coronavirus vaccine. The ACT program was launched by the WHO, the EC, France, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations in April 2020.

To advance overall vaccine development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also given an $20 million to CEPI, which is supporting nine candidates, including those created by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca PLC; CureVac; and Moderna Inc., according to CEPI's website. Gavi added that although governments, organizations, individuals and vaccine manufacturers have devoted a further $1.3 billion to vaccine research and development, the health organization said another $800 million is still needed for the portfolio.

Representatives for Gavi, CEPI and did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Gavi's counsel information was not immediately known. The WHO directed a request for comment to Gavi, and a representative from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was not immediately available for an interview Friday. 

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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