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National governments, civil society and private organisations have pledged a record US$8.8 billion to a global collaboration over vaccines for low-income countries, laying the groundwork for the rollout of a future COVID-19 jab and saving up to 8 million lives.

The record funding was accorded to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, during a virtual summit hosted by the United Kingdom yesterday (4 June).

Gavi helps vaccinate half of the world’s children against diseases. Its focus is low-income countries, with more than 60 per cent of resources spent in Africa.

“We cannot live in a world where some have access to vaccines and others do not.”

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland

The funding pledges will maintain Gavi’s operations over the next five years and help immunise 300 million more children in the world’s poorest countries against measles, polio, diphtheria and other diseases.

Gavi chair Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says up to eight million more lives could be saved.

The funding is also expected to support health systems under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and maintain the infrastructure needed to roll out a future COVID-19 vaccine.

Five-year funding

Gavi executive director Seth Berkley says the record funding replenishment will help the organisation reach out to the 10 per cent of children living below the poverty line who do not have access to at least one routine vaccination.

Ethiopia has boosted routine vaccinations to 72 per cent, up from 30 per cent in 2000, and President Sahle-Work Zewde says this has only been possible thanks to cost-effective vaccines.

“Since 2018, 1.1 million girls have been spared from the scourge of cervical cancer due to the introduction of the HPV vaccine,” she says.

Vaccines and gender

Iceland was among eight first-time contributors to Gavi. The Nordic island state’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says the pandemic “has been a wake-up call for the world” and highlighted inequalities within many societies.

“We cannot live in a world where some have access to vaccines and others do not,” Jakobsdóttir says.

She says the importance of equitable, universal access to healthcare and vaccines has been proven during this pandemic, which also highlighted the need for gender-responsive approaches that recognise women’s paid and unpaid care work.

Thoraya Obaid, who established the first women’s development programme in Western Asia in 1975, says world leaders must commit to gender-sensitive funding and programmatic approaches.

“Women are a vital part of the healthcare infrastructure that is battling the COVID-19 pandemic head-on,” says Obaid, chair of Women 20 (W20), a group which ensures gender considerations are mainstreamed into G20 discussions.

COVID-19

Vaccines can only realise their true power when they are deployed to protect the poorest and most vulnerable, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says.

To this end, the Gavi Advance Market Commitment for COVID-19 Vaccines (Covax) was launched at the summit.

Covax, a new financing instrument, will aim to incentivise vaccine manufacturers to ensure access for developing countries to eventual COVID-19 vaccines.

The commitment is inspired by similar mechanisms aimed at securing equitable global access to pneumococcal and Ebola vaccines. “By de-risking the cost of investing in high volumes of manufacturing against an unknown outcome – and making sure those investments are made now – the Gavi Covax AMC increases the likelihood that when we have a successful vaccine or vaccines, it will be available in sufficient quantities and affordable to developing countries,” says Gavi chair Okonjo-Iweala.

UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca was the first vaccine manufacturer to sign the Memorandum of Understanding and will guarantee 300 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with the UK’s University of Oxford.

The video-sharing social networking service TikTok committed $10 million to support Gavi’s distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine in Africa, while Gavi will explore working with TikTok to use the platform to increase immunisation and vaccination awareness by countering misinformation.

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