Vaccine alliance secures $2 billion to fund COVID shots for poor nations

LONDON/GENEVA (Reuters) - A facility set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI vaccine group has exceeded an interim target of raising more than $2 billion to buy and distribute COVID-19 shots for poorer countries, but said it still needs more.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The GAVI alliance said on Friday that the funds for an advance market commitment (AMC) will allow the COVAX facility to buy an initial one billion vaccine doses for 92 eligible countries which would not otherwise be able to afford them.

“We’ve seen sovereign and private donors from across the world dig deep and meet this target and help ensure that every country will get access to COVID vaccines, not just the wealthy few,” GAVI chief Seth Berkley told reporters, adding that there was an “urgent need” to also finance treatments and diagnostics.

The European Commission, France, Spain, South Korea, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others had in recent weeks pledged another $360 million to the AMC, the alliance said, bringing total funding over the $2 billion target for this year.

Another $5 billion will be needed in 2021 to procure COVID-19 vaccine doses as they come through development and are approved by regulators, GAVI said in a statement.

Berkley also welcomed the U.S. presidential election outcome, adding he expected to have talks with president-elect Joe Biden’s team about the COVAX plan.

“It’s positive that the incoming administration has already established a COVID-19 task force filled with many scientists we know are believers in science and moving this forward,” he said.

“The U.S. is already one of GAVI’s biggest supporters, they care enormously about vaccines for the developing world. And I suspect that we will have continuing conversations about how we can collaborate with them,” he added.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer PFE.N and its partner BioNTech 22UAy.DE, who this week said their experimental COVID-19 vaccine was 90% effective in initial trials, had expressed an interest in supplying doses to the COVAX facility, Berkley said.

“We continue to advance negotiations with a number of manufacturers in addition to those we’ve already announced who share our vision of fair and equitable distribution of vaccines,” he added.

Berkley said $5.3 billion was also still needed for diagnostics and $6.1 billion for therapeutics by the end of 2021.

(This story corrects diagnostics funding figure to $5.3 billion, final paragraph)

Reporting by Kate Kelland and Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by Alexander Smith