World leaders join to pledge billions for COVID-19 vaccine research

Some countries announced money for their own national research efforts combined with those they would offer to international organizations

World leaders join to pledge billions for COVID-19 vaccine research
Vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19 - Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP
English 05/05/2020 16:09 AP Brussels Lorne Cook Actualizada 17:07

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World leaders, organizations, and banks on Monday pledged EUR €7.4 billion (USD $8 billion) for research to find a vaccine against the new coronavirus, but warned that it is just the start of an effort that must be sustained over time to beat the disease.

The funds, pledged at a video-conference summit hosted by the European Union, fell marginally short of the EUR €7.5 billion being sought, but more money could arrive in coming days. Notably absent from the event was the United States, where more than 67,000 people have died, and Russia.

Despite the shortfall, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, the target being sought Monday to help find a vaccine, new treatments, and better tests for the disease would only ever amount to a “down-payment” on the tools that will be needed to fight the virus.

“To reach everyone, everywhere, we likely need five times that amount,” Guterres said.

Governments have reported around 3.5 million infections and more than 247,000 deaths from the virus, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. But deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates, and the strain on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is much greater.

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People in many countries across the globe, and notably in Europe this week, are cautiously returning to work but authorities remain wary of a second wave of infections, and a vaccine is the only real golden bullet to allow something like normal life to resume.

“In the space of just a few hours we have collectively pledged EUR €7.4 billion for vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, wrapping up the event after three hours. “All this money will help kick-start unprecedented global cooperation.”

The original aim was to gather around EUR €4 billion (USD $4.37 billion) for vaccine research, some EUR €2 billion for treatments and EUR €1.5 billion (USD $1.64 billion) for testing.

The pledges were hard to track, beyond coming in various currencies. Some countries announced money for their own national research efforts combined with those they would offer to international organizations. Others also proposed a mix of loans with their funding. Pledges made toward vaccine research since January 30 were also counted.

Apart from many European leaders, heads of state and government from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Jordan, South Africa, and Turkey spoke at the event, along with China’s EU ambassador.

President Emmanuel Macron warned that “a race against time is underway,” as he donated EUR €500 million on behalf of France.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “the race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries, but the most urgent shared endeavor of our lifetimes.”

Among the larger contributions, Japan pledged more than USD $800 million while Germany offered EUR €525 million.

Italy and Spain, perhaps the hardest hit by the virus in Europe, each said they would provide more than EUR €100 million.

Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Israel also pledged EUR €378 million, EUR €192 million, and USD $60 million, respectively.

Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that beating the virus “will take more than making a vaccine available to the very highest bidder. It is going to take more than delivering it only to people in wealthy nations. The pandemic won’t end until people everywhere can be immunized against it.”

About 100 research groups are pursuing vaccines, with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start. But so far there’s no way to predict which—if any—vaccine will work safely, or even to name a front-runner.

Even if a first useful vaccine is identified, there won’t be enough for everyone initially. A growing number of vaccine makers say they’re already starting to brew tons of doses—wasting millions of dollars if they bet on the wrong candidate but shaving a few months off mass vaccinations if their choice pans out.

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