World leaders pledge billions for virus vaccine research

May 05, 2020 in International

BRUSSELS (AP) — World leaders, organisations, and banks yesterday pledged 7.4 billion euros (US$8 billion) for research to find a vaccine against the new coronavirus, but warned that it is just the start of an effort that must be sustained over time to beat the disease.

The funds, pledged at a videoconference summit hosted by the European Union, fell marginally short of the 7.5 billion euros being sought, but more money could arrive in coming days. Notably absent from the event was the United States, where more than 67,000 people have died, and Russia.

Despite the shortfall, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the target being sought to help find a vaccine, new treatments, and better tests for the disease would only ever amount to a “down payment” on the tools that will be needed to fight the virus.

“To reach everyone, everywhere, we likely need five times that amount,” Guterres said.

Governments have reported around 3.5 million infections and more than 247,000 deaths from the virus, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. But deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates, and the strain on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is much greater.

People in many countries across the globe, and notably in Europe this week, are cautiously returning to work but authorities remain wary of a second wave of infections, and a vaccine is the only real golden bullet to allow something like normal life to resume.

“In the space of just a few hours we have collectively pledged 7.4 billion euros for vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, wrapping up the event after three hours. “All this money will help kick-start unprecedented global cooperation.”

The original aim was to gather around four billion euros (US$4.37 billion) for vaccine research, some two billion euros for treatments, and 1.5 billion (US$1.64 billion) for testing.

The pledges were hard to track, beyond coming in various currencies. Some countries announced money for their own national research efforts combined with those they would offer to international organisations. Others also proposed a mix of loans with their funding. Pledges made toward vaccine research since January 30 were also counted.

Apart from many European leaders, heads of state and government from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Jordan, South Africa, and Turkey spoke at the event, along with China’s EU ambassador.

President Emmanuel Macron warned that “a race against time is underway”, as he donated 500 million euros on behalf of France.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “the race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries, but the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes”.

Among the larger contributions, Japan pledged more than US$800 million while Germany offered 525 million euros. Italy and Spain, perhaps the hardest hit by the virus in Europe, each said they would provide more than 100 million euros. Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Israel also pledged 378 million euros, 192 million euros and 60 million dollars, respectively.

About 100 research groups are pursuing vaccines, with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start. But so far there’s no way to predict which — if any — vaccine will work safely, or even to name a front runner.