SEATTLE — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is anteing up an additional $70 million to help develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries, at what the foundation’s CEO describes as an “auspicious” time.
The news this week that an experimental vaccine from Pfizer might be 90 percent effective against the novel coronavirus “makes us hopeful about a number of other vaccine products in the pipeline,” Mark Suzman said in a briefing with journalists Thursday reported by Reuters. “But there’s still a long way to go between that and getting vaccines approved, and then into people who need them at the scale and with the kind of equitable global distribution we really need to bring the virus under control.”
Some $50 million of the new funding will go to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, a fund established by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to ensure access to and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in 92 low- and middle-income countries.
The donation will unlock a $16.2 million matching pledge from the U.K. government. France, the European Union and Spain also announced pledges totaling nearly $300 million.
The other $20 million from Gates will go the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, or CEPI, which has been funding research and development on a promising suite of vaccine candidates. While the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at extremely low temperatures, many of the other vaccine candidates are less finicky and might be easier and cheaper to manufacture and distribute in rural areas and in the developing world, says a statement from the foundation.
“COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere,” Melinda Gates said in the statement. “That is why we have to ensure that everyone gets equal access to tests, drugs, and vaccines when they are available — no matter where you live in the world.”
Gates announced the new funding at the Paris Peace Forum, where heads of state, international groups and the private sector met to discuss pandemic response this week.
At the meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus chided wealthy nations that have already locked up orders for more vaccine than they will need. “This is a moment for saying ‘no’ to vaccine nationalism and ‘yes’ to all our shared humanity,” he said.
Britain, for example, has ordered 350 million vaccine doses for its population of about 67 million, although some vaccines require two doses. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised that U.K. residents will be “at the front of the pack” for vaccine delivery.
The vast majority of the world’s expected COVID-19 vaccine supplies through 2021 have already been reserved by rich countries. It’s therefore very unlikely that the developing world will get any significant amounts next year unless vaccine manufacturers can significantly ramp up capacity or intellectual property issues are addressed.
With the new funding, the Gates Foundation has committed a total of more than $450 million in grants to fighting the pandemic and another $300 million from an investment fund that returns profits back to charitable work.
But much more funding is still needed, Suzman said.
“Ending this pandemic will require the largest public health effort in history,” he said. “It will have to be well-coordinated, well-funded, and global.”