Global COVID-19 drug and vaccine push nets $8 billion from donors

May 5, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners announced a massive effort to scale up development and production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests and ensure that they're equitably distributed, and countries and groups have pledged $8 billion to make the plan—called the ACT Accelerator—a reality.

The global COVID-19 number is at 3,601,760 from 187 countries, and at least 251,910 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

The European Commission (EC), which hosted the pledging event, said that the pledging session, which netted €7.4 billion (equivalent to $8 billion), almost reached the initial target of €7.5 billion and that the donor commitments are a solid starting point.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EC's president, said in a statement, "Today the world showed extraordinary unity for the common good. Governments and global health organizations joined forces against coronavirus. With such commitment, we are on track for developing, producing and deploying a vaccine for all." She said the request for support for the effort is just beginning and that the pledging marathon will continue.

About 40 countries took part in the pledging event, but some large countries weren't part of the effort, including the United States, Russia and India.

At a WHO telebriefing, the group's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, called the pledging commitments a powerful and inspiring demonstration of global solidarity. He said scientists are working at incredible speed to develop tools to battle COVID-10, but the measure of success isn't just how fast, safe, and effective they are, it's also how equally they can be distributed.

"None of us can accept a world in which some people are protected while others are not. Everybody should be protected," he said. "None of us are safe until all of us are safe."

Tedros said the threat of more COVID-19 waves demands that everyone on the planet be protected from the disease.

At the briefing, the WHO also fielded questions about US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's claim yesterday that US intelligence has "significant" evidence that COVID-19 emerged from Wuhan's virology lab, though he didn't counter intelligence reports that the virus is not man-made.

Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's COVID-19 lead, said the most important goal is to understand how the virus jumped from animals to people so that a similar event doesn't happen again. So far, evidence from 15,000 full genomes leans toward a natural origin, and she said the WHO is happy to help China trace the virus back to its animal source, most likely bats that passed the virus to an intermediate animal source.

Mike Ryan, MD, who directs the WHO's health emergencies program, told reporters that the WHO has not received any information from the US on lab involvement, so that information remains speculative. However, he said if the United States has any information, the WHO welcomes it. "We focus on what we know and what evidence we have," Ryan said, adding that assigning wrongdoing is a political issue, not a science issue. "Science needs to be at the center."

Russia's total number of cases is now 155,370, making it the world's seventh hardest-hit country. With 1,451 deaths, the Russia's fatalities are far lower than those of other countries.

Moscow, the country's epicenter, is still on lockdown, and President Vladimir Putin has warned residents of difficult weeks ahead. The country is relatively well equipped with ventilators, with 27 per 100,000 citizens, more than the 18.8 per 100,000 in the US, Reuters reported. However, many ventilators in Russia's regional or district hospitals are older models that lack screens that track a patient's breathing process and can't ventilate lungs for as long as the newer models.

In Brazil, the total number of cases is now 108,620. The country, which has the highest total in Latin America, now records 7,367 deaths.

Elsewhere, India's total number of cases surged to 46,476. However, the country cleared most businesses and services to reopen today in the third phase of its lockdown plan, CBS News reported. Though the lockdown was extended and officially ends on May 18, many restrictions have been relaxed, and the government has warned that the country needs to learn to "live with the virus."

India has ordered public- and private-sector employees to maintain social distancing in offices and use a government-supported contact tracking app, a Bluetooth- and GPS-based system that alerts users who may had contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, Reuters said. The country's goal is for the app to be on at least 200 million phones; so far, it has been downloaded 83 million times.

The move has alarmed privacy advocates, who point out that India doesn't have privacy laws that cover the app.

CIDRAP has the report.

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.