World Bank announces $12bn in 'fast track finance' for Covid-19 global vaccine pool

Credit: Keystone/Alexandra Wey

The World Bank will make available up to $12bn in “fast-track financing” that low and middle-income countries can access to procure vaccines against Covid-19 - as soon as one becomes available, the Bank’s president David Malpass, said on Wednesday.

Why is this important? The announcement at a major United Nations high-level panel on the pandemic marks the first serious flow of finance into an ambitious global vaccine pool. The “Covax” pool is part of a World Health Organization initiative to raise some $35bn to finance 2 billion vaccine doses, as well as 500 million diagnostic tests and treatments, for low and middle-income countries across the globe.

Rich countries also step up.A handful of rich countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, also pledged nearly $670m in new donations to the “Covax” pool, which is co-sponsored by the WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Some 168 rich and poor countries have joined the pool, in an unprecedented show of solidarity. But until today, the vaccine facility had only secured $3bn in donations, far short of what WHO and its partners have said would be needed to roll out vaccines in the 92 low- and middle-income countries that can’t afford to pay.

In another precedent for the pandemic fund-raising effort, pharma giant Johnson&Johnson pledged to allocate 500 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to low and middle-income countries - should its candidate now under development pass Phase 3 trials with results showing it is safe and effective. Trials were launched just last week for vaccine candidate, which is the only one that would require just one dose. Other vaccines in advanced R&D stages, by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, would require two doses.

J&J CEO Alex Gorsky, who made the pledge, did not elaborate on whether the company’s offer meant that the vaccines would be donated outright, or offered at a reduced price.  What he did say was this:

“Having access to life saving COVID diagnostics therapeutics or vaccines… shouldn’t depend on where you live, whether you’re rich or poor, and whether you live in an industrialized country or in an emerging economy. The COVID-19 virus does not care about any of those things, and neither do we.

“Decisive collaborative action itnow will help us beat this pandemic and better prepare us for the future virus outbreaks.”

WHO and Gavi have said that some $15bn is needed immediately to begin making the manufacturing orders and planning distribution networks that would facilitate massive rollout of a vaccine in 2021. Among countries making fresh pledges to the Covax global pool, Canada made the largest outright commitment of $440m, including $220m as a donation to low-income countries. But the United Kingdom upped the ante, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab pledging to donate up to £250m ($322m) more to match pledges of other countries. That benchmark was met and then exceeded as Germany and Sweden also threw new cash into the pool, for €100m and $10m respectively. World Bank president David Malpass said:

“I've proposed to our board to make available up to $12bn of fast track financing to countries for the purchase and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. Once the vaccines have been approved by several highly respected stringent regulatory agencies. This additional financing will be to low and middle income developing countries that don't have adequate access and will help them alter the course of the pandemic for their people.

“Our vaccine financing is additional to the COVID fast track health financing we announced in March, and it's an important part of bank group's intention to make available $160 bn in grants and financial support over a 15 month period to help developing countries respond to the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.”