New kinds of loans and bonds could fill $28 billion COVID funding gap: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization is looking at new financial instruments to help to fill a $28 billion funding shortfall for tools to fight COVID-19, a senior official said on Tuesday.

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//File Photo

The WHO and GAVI vaccine alliance aim to provide poor and middle-income countries with diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines through a fund known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, set up last April.

Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO adviser and its ACT coordinator, said that new financing mechanisms - including concessional loans and catastrophe bonds - were discussed at a meeting of the ACT facilitation council on Monday, co-chaired by Norway and South Africa.

“Right now financing is what stands between us and getting out of this pandemic as rapidly as possible,” he told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

“It’s a real challenge in today’s fiscal environment despite the fact that this is the best deal in town,” Aylward said, referring to the ACT Accelerator facility. “This will pay itself off in 36 hours once we get trade and travel moving again.”

Aylward said that the WHO and partners were seeking to build a diversified portfolio of vaccines to meet its target of delivering 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

“We need to make sure that we hedge our bets,” he said.

The agencies are in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to include their COVID-19 vaccines as part of an early global roll out “at prices appropriate to populations we are trying to serve”, he said.

Aylward said he saw a “strong commitment” on the part of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to set prices at the right level for global use. Aylward expected some news on more manufacturers joining the list of providers to the COVAX vaccine facility in coming weeks, he said.

If vaccines that have been developed by China or Russia meet international standards for efficacy and safety, they would be considered for inclusion, he said.

Canada has pledged to spend C$485 million ($380 million) to support COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, including antibody treatments, International Aid Minister Karina Gould said on Monday.

Aylward said the gaps were most acute for providing COVID therapeutics to patients in developing countries, especially new drugs such as monoclonal antibodies, “one of the most promising areas” but which remain expensive.

As clinical trials continue, WHO and partners are looking at expanding manufacturing capacity to produce monoclonal antibodies at scale for low-income countries and have the procurement financing to deliver them, he added.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge, Editing by Jane Merriman and Angus MacSwan