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Jabs For Poor Countries: Covax secures addl $2.4b for Covid shots

WHO rules out new ‘hybrid’ variant in Vietnam
A nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) at the Eka Kotebe General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 13, 2021. REUTERS

Countries and private donors pledged nearly $2.4 billion to the Covax vaccine-sharing plan, expanding efforts to make Covid-19 shots more available to people in poorer nations.

The announcements, ranging from $2,500 from island nation Mauritius to millions of dollars and doses from wealthier countries, came during a video summit on Wednesday hosted by Japan and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which leads the Covax facility alongside the World Health Organization.

The funds will allow Covax to secure 1.8 billion fully subsidised doses for delivery to lower-income countries in 2021 and early 2022, enough to protect 30% of adults in those nations, GAVI said in a statement.

"We have taken a big step towards 'one world protected'," said Jose Manuel Barroso, GAVI chairman. The fresh funds brought total Covax financing to $9.6 billion, he added.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose government pledged an additional $800 million, called the result "an extremely significant and meaningful step" toward equitable vaccine access.

Japan will also donate about 30 million doses of vaccines produced within the country through Covax, he said.

The Covax mechanism has distributed 77 million doses to 127 countries since February but has been stymied by India restricting exports of vaccines amid a major outbreak there.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who pledged 15 million doses and 50 million euros ($61 million), said: "Only by leading by example we will be effective in preaching solidarity."

Australia said it was giving a further A$50 million ($39 million) to Covax while Canada, Sweden, France and Switzerland were among other countries to announce new donations.

Philanthropist Bill Gates said: "High-income countries have reserved more vaccines than they need. So without compromising their own domestic vaccination efforts, these countries can be part of the effort to accelerate global vaccine access by sharing the excess doses.

"I encourage these nations to be bold and commit as soon as possible to sharing over 1 billion doses in 2021 mostly through GAVI's Covax advance market commitment," Gates said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation later announced a $50 million commitment to Covax.


US Vice President Kamala Harris referenced the United States' $2 billion contribution this year and $2 billion earmarked for next year, but made no fresh announcements.

More than two billion Covid-19 vaccines have been given across the world, according to an AFP tally yesterday drawn from official sources. The milestone comes six months after the first vaccination campaigns against Covid-19 began.

Meanwhile, India signed its first order for an unapproved Covid-19 vaccine yesterday, a day after it faced criticism from the Supreme Court over its bungled vaccine rollout that has left millions of people vulnerable after almost 338,000 deaths.

So far, only about 4.7% of the 950 million adult population have been given two vaccine doses as the world's second-most populous country reels from a devastating second wave of infections that killed around 170,000 people in April and May alone, reports Reuters.

The government will buy 300 million vaccine doses from local firm Biological-E and has put down an advance of $205.6 million, the health ministry said, even though the vaccine is still going through Phase III clinical trials.

"The arrangement with Biological-E is part of the wider endeavour of Government of India to encourage indigenous vaccine manufacturers by providing them support in research & development and also financial support," the ministry said in a statement.

India has been inoculating its people with AstraZeneca shots produced at the Serum Institute of India, Covaxin made by local firm Bharat Biotech and is set to commercially launch Russia's Sputnik V in mid-June.

The country yesterday announced 134,154 new infections over the past 24 hours, down more than 65% from a peak of 414,188 reported on May 7.

The official recorded case load since the start of the pandemic now stands at 28.4 million, the second-highest in the world after the United States.

India added 2,887 deaths overnight, pushing the overall toll to 337,989, the world's third-highest toll after the United States and Brazil.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned yesterday that Africa, hit by a fresh surge of infections and with vaccine deliveries at a near standstill, is not ready to face a third wave of the pandemic.

"Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically-ill patients," warned WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

WHO's representative in Vietnam told Nikkei that a coronavirus variant which Vietnam authorities thought was a combination of the Indian and UK strains is not a new hybrid but part of the existing Indian strain.

"There is no new hybrid variant in Vietnam at this moment based on WHO definition," Kidong Park said in an online interview, adding that it was within the delta variation that originated in India.



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