WHO & European Commission Announce Plan To Raise 7.5 Billion Euros To Ensure Equitable Access To COVID-19 Diagnostics, Drugs & Vaccines
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, speaking at the virtual launch of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator virtual launch

In the largest global collaboration to address the COVID-19 crisis so far, the World Health Organization, European Commission, and other partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), launched a new campaign to accelerate development of COVID-19 diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines – and just as critically ensure that they are affordable and accessible worldwide.

The European Commission will be hosting a rolling pledging campaign, beginning 4 May, to raise the 7.5 billion Euros to bankroll the massive effort, said Ursula von der Leyen, EC President.

In a striking display of multi-lateral unity, launch of the new ‘Access to COVID-19 Tools’ (ACT) Accelerator was made in a WHO public webcast featuring UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Melinda Gates, 11 heads of state, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as other leaders across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and Europe.  

Strikingly absent were the United States and China, which have been locked in bitter dispute with each other over the management of the COVID-19 crisis. But Macron specifically addressed the political tensions, saying he hoped to “be able to reconcile this initiative” with both superpowers.

“I hope that both of these countries will be able to fight against COVID-19 by developing vaccines together,” said Macron. “There should not be any divisions between countries, we need to join forces.” Clinical trials for five of the seven leading vaccine candidates identified by the WHO are being conducted in either the United States or China. 

“Human health is the quintessential global public good, and today we face a global public enemy like no other. COVID-19 requires the most massive public health efforts,”  said Guterres in prepared remarks. “For too long we have undervalued, underinvested in global public goods. Data must be shared, production capacity prepared, resources mobilized, and politics set aside.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls into the ‘Access to COVID-19 Tools’ (ACT) Accelerator launch event.

“The ACT Accelerator brings together the combined power of several organizations to work with speed and scale,” added WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a 90 minute virtual launch, co-hosted with French President Emmanuel Macron and the BMGF. “Each of us are doing great work, but we cannot work alone. We’re coming together to work in new ways to identify challenges and solutions.” 

Leaders of other global health organizations echoed Guterres’ and Tedros’ calls urging countries to collaborate in the pandemic response.

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the BMGF, said “COVID-19 knowns no borders, and defeating it will require action across sectors and countries.”

“Beating coronavirus will require sustained actions on many fronts,” said von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. “This is a first step, only, but more will be needed in the future.” 

Search for a Vaccine Dominates

As new COVID-19 cases continue to rise in newly affected hotspots, and some states begin to weigh the risks of a resurgence as cases plateau, there was wide agreement among the leaders that developing and deploying an effective COVID-19 vaccine was the priority. Von der Leyen and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel called for such a vaccine to be treated as “a universal public good.”

Hope of curbing the pandemic was pinned on a vaccine just as early COVID-19 drug trial results, revealed that remdesivir, the most promising therapeutic so far, may not be as effective as initially suspected. The pre-print study was accidentally posted by WHO and obtained by STAT News.

“COVID-19 is not a human endemic infection, this will not disappear. The only true exit strategy is science,” said Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust.

Finding and distributing the vaccine is the only way to win this battle,” said Guiseppe Conte, president of the Council of Ministers of Italy. “The role of governments is to promote good governance, transparency, and mutual accountability to ensure universal, equitable access to the vaccines.”

Guiseppe Conte, president of Council of Ministers of Italy, speaking at a virtual ACT Accelerator launch

So far, vaccine developers have reported that an acceleration of funding is required to bring candidates through later clinical trials and market approval. The Coalition for Pandemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI), which has been supporting three of the six vaccine candidates that have entered clinical trials around the world, is still facing a US $1 billion shortfall to bring a successful vaccine candidate to market.

“The establishment of the ACT Accelerator is a watershed moment in the world coming together to develop a global exit strategy from the COVID-19 pandemic,”  said Richard Hatchett, CEPI CEO. “Everyone must have access to the tools and countermeasures, including vaccines, that we will develop through the Accelerator.”

Hatchett’s comments were echoed by several heads of state and leaders of global health organizations from around the world, who stressed the importance of making any new COVID-19 tools accessible in an equitable way.

“We must commit to a system of clear global access goals as long as the virus is active somewhere. We are all at risk. The fight against COVID-19 must leave no one behind,” said Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg.

Erna Solberg, PM of Norway, speaking at a virtual ACT Accelerator launch

But while the search for a vaccine dominated the discussion, other speakers reaffirmed the importance of supporting a holistic COVID-19 response, focusing on providing equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and strengthening the public health system for future pandemic threats. The standing president of the G20 group of most called pandemic preparedness the “smartest investment for us to make today.”

“We might face a similar threat in the future,” said G20 president and Minister of Finance of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan. “In order to deal with future pandemics effectively, we have to invest in strengthening our preparedness  and response systems. G20 is working with relevant organizations to assess that gaps with the view to establish a global mechanism for response.”

Key Commitments Under the ACT Accelerator

Under the ACT Accelerator, 11 major global health agencies, organizations, and pharma industry representatives made five major commitments in a statement released Friday:

  1. Aim to ensure equitable global access to innovative tools for COVID-19 for all;
  2. Commit to an unprecedented level of partnership to proactively engaging stakeholders and existing collaborations to align and coordinate efforts;
  3. Commit to create a strong unified voice to maximize impact;
  4. Build on past experiences towards achieving this objective;
  5. Stay accountable to the world, to communities, and to one another.

Some 11 heads of state including the United Kingdom’s first Secretary of State Dominic Raab, Spain’s President Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin, and Rwanda President Paul Kagame, among others spoke at the launch event to support the collaboration. Costa Rica President Carlos Quesada Alvarado, who called on WHO to create an accessible pool of COVID-19 intellectual property rights, also called in to support the launch. 

The initial group of collaborators includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccines Alliance; the Global Fund for HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria; UNITAID; the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the Wellcome Trust.

Pharma industry representatives including the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA); the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network (DCVMN); and the International Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association (IGBA) have also joined as founding members of the Accelerator.