European leaders, WHO team up on $8B pandemic vaccine response

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), talks to the media at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Photo by Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP, Newscred)

The leaders of Germany and France and a host of other EU countries and groups have come together with the World Health Organization (WHO) for an $8 billion push for a new vaccine against COVID-19.

This comes as the pandemic hit 3 million recorded cases this week, with around 206,000 official deaths, though both cases and mortality are suspected to be much higher given the methodology many are using to tot up the grim statistics.

As the world continues to battle the virus, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have spearheaded a European drive to work with the WHO for a vaccine via an $8 billion project. A conference to discuss project’s funding is to be held May 4, with more details to be revealed.

Sir Andrew Witty, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, will as a special envoy help head up the collaboration.  

As part of the project, donors are being asked to provide the necessary resources to “accelerate achievement of its objectives, capitalizing on the opportunity provided by a forthcoming pledging initiative that starts on 4 May,” WHO said in a statement.

This initiative, spearheaded by the EU, aims to “mobilize the significant resources needed to accelerate the work towards protecting the world from COVID-19,” it added.

But the WHO, Macron and Merkel stressed that any vaccine made by an individual country must be available to all and not prioritize the land in which it was made.

“The world needs these tools and it needs them fast,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference Friday, as quoted by Bloomberg. “In the past they have not been available to all. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

“The challenge is to speed up and harmonize processes to ensure that once products are deemed safe and effective, they can be brought to the billions of people in the world who need them. Past experience, in the early days of HIV treatment, for example, and in the deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, shows that even when tools are available, they have not been equally available to all.”

This is at odds with several countries, including the U.K. and the U.S., which appear to favor nationally prioritizing vaccines made in their respective countries. The U.K. was represented at the meeting, though no official U.S. political contingent was at the event. U.S. President Donald Trump has recently pulled funding for the WHO, saying its response to the outbreak and its relationship with China prompted the move.