At the close of this year’s G7 Leaders’ summit, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland announced a donation of an additional 870 million vaccine doses from attendees, with the majority to be delivered through COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID 19 Tools Accelerator, within the next year. Attendees included heads of G7 Member States plus Australia, India, South Africa and Republic of Korea, invited as guests.
Leaders confirmed their support for all pillars of the ACT-Accelerator across treatments, tests and strengthening public health systems as well as vaccines (link to the communique). Additionally, they indicated their intention to work together with the private sector, the G20 and other countries to increase their vaccine contribution over the months to come. Since their G7 Early Leaders’ Summit in February 2021, the G7 has committed one billion doses in total.
Timing is key
WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, spoke to leaders at their meeting and urged “many other countries are now facing a surge in cases – and they are facing it without vaccines. We are in the race of our lives, but it’s not a fair race, and most countries have barely left the starting line. We welcome the generous announcements about donations of vaccines and thank leaders. But we need more, and we need them faster”.
Over US$ 16 billion is still needed this year to fully fund the work of ACT-Accelerator, the global partnership of leading international health organizations which is mid-way through its 2020-21 funding need. In additional to vital vaccine research and development and procurement work, ACT-Accelerator needs funds to strengthen health systems and protect health workers administering the tools needed to end the pandemic; tests to detect and contain hotspots, as well as identify new variants that will continue to appear; and treatments to save the lives of those who will continue to catch COVID-19 and suffer. There is an urgent need for treatments like oxygen which is seeing a surge in demand that is 5 times – and in cases such as India, 10 times – greater than the need before the pandemic.
The funding needed for the ACT-Accelerator will address challenges delivering products where they are most needed, help establish testing for 500 million people in low- and middle-income countries by mid-2021 and help secure the necessary supply of oxygen as well as distribute 165 million doses of treatments including dexamethasone which can save lives of people critically ill with COVID.
Carl Bildt, WHO Special Envoy for the ACT Accelerator, said: “We welcome these commitments but there is still a significant funding gap that must be closed if we are to get the urgently needed treatments, including oxygen, and tests, to low and lower-middle income countries so we aren’t flying blind to where the virus is and how it’s changing. The time to act is now. We look to the G7 and G20 to fund the work of the ACT Accelerator, the global multilateral solution that can speed up an end to the pandemic. The world needs their political leadership because left to rage anywhere, the virus will remain a threat everywhere.”
“This is an important moment of global solidarity and a critical milestone in the push to ensure those most at risk, everywhere are protected,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi). “As we strive towards or goal of ending the acute phase of the pandemic, we look forward to working with countries to ensure these doses pledged are quickly turned into doses delivered.”
Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of UNITAID, said: “These commitments from G7 leaders are important and welcome. But it is crucial to remember that right now, COVID-19 patients around the world are dying and suffering due to a lack of oxygen, an essential medicine that is vital for the treatment of COVID-19. I would urge G7 leaders to act now to ensure that all pillars of the ACT-Accelerator are fully funded – including those focusing on treatments and tests. As recent events in India, Nepal and elsewhere have shown, we need more than vaccines to end this pandemic everywhere.”
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said: “The impact of the pandemic in its second year is already far worse than its first. We are seeing significant and devastating outbreaks all over the world – including south Asia, southern Africa and Latin America. We must continue to sound the alarm. The longer the virus continues to spread unchecked, the higher the risk of more deadly or contagious variants emerging. The clearest pathway out of this pandemic is a global, equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, and the overall strengthening of health systems across the globe, because no one will be safe until we are all safe.”
Dr Emma Hannay, Chief Access Officer and ACT-Accelerator Lead for FIND, said: “We thank the G7 for their leadership and continuing drive to ensure R&D and equitable access to diagnostic testing, necessary both for the fight against COVID-19 and to lay the foundations that will prepare the world to guard against future pandemics.”
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said: “This is an historic moment – as leaders of some of the wealthiest counties come together to ensure that all parts of the world have access to life saving vaccines. This pandemic has shown us that we cannot set national against international interests. With a disease like COVID-19 we have to ensure that we get it under control everywhere. There is still much to do to get vaccines in arms and ensure our research and development allows us to stay one step ahead of the virus. But for today we give pause and celebrate a watershed moment of political alignment and collaboration”.
Peter Sands, Executive Director of The Global Fund, said: “It is encouraging to see such global collaboration and commitments. However, none of the lifesaving tools to fight COVID-19 will deliver themselves. We need to make sure that health systems are prepared and that front-line health workers are sufficiently protected to deliver these tools without risking their own lives. This can only happen if the ACT-Accelerator is fully funded.”