World Bank working with countries to resolve vaccine legal hurdles

FILE PHOTO: World Bank President David Malpass attends the "1+6" Roundtable meeting at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank is working closely with over 100 countries to pave the way for them to receive low-interest loans and funding to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, World Bank Group President David Malpass told reporters on Tuesday.

World Bank officials were working with countries to address one of the key obstacles - rules that leave vaccine makers open for lawsuits or judgments - through legislation or other processes, he said during a teleconference.

Malpass also appealed to advanced economies to release reservations of vaccines that exceeded their current distribution capability to free up more vaccines for purchase or distribution in poorer countries.

The World Bank’s executive board in October approved $12 billion in new funding for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments for an estimated 1 billion people over 24 months.

The plan is part of $160 billion in total resources that the multilateral development lender has pledged to provide to developing countries through June 2021 to help them fight the coronavirus pandemic. It includes technical support to recipient countries so they can prepare for deploying vaccines at scale, and is meant to signal future demand to drug companies.

Malpass said the Bank expected to bring the first country vaccine financing plans to its board for approval shortly, but did not identify the countries involved.

A World Bank spokesman said the first agreement could be approved toward the end of January or early February.

Malpass said Bank officials were working with health authorities in eligible countries to address the indemnification issue, to assess the logistics of distributing the vaccines and how to keep them adequately cooled.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corp was also involved in funding needles, vials and other materials needed to administer the vaccines once they were available.