Leaders pledge 8.8 billion dollars to fund global vaccine drive

International leaders on Thursday pledged 8.8 billion dollars at a donor summit for vaccine programmes to help the world’s poorest nations, exceeding their funding target.

While the world’s attention is on the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vaccine Alliance, or Gavi, summit sought at least 7.4 billion dollars to also protect against polio, typhoid, measles and other diseases.

“Together, we have replenished this alliance and here comes the number you’ve been waiting for: We have secured a fantastic 8.8 billion dollars for Gavi’s vital work over the next five years,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the event over video conference.

Johnson said Britain will give 1.65 billion pounds (2.08 billion dollars) to the programme over the next five years.

Germany and France each promised 600 million euros (679 million dollars), while other major pledges included 600 million dollars by Canada, 300 million euros by the European Union and 300 million dollars by Japan.

“Let’s fortify this life-saving alliance and inaugurate a new era of global health cooperation, which I believe is now the most essential shared endeavour of our lifetimes,” Johnson said in his opening speech to more than 50 leaders.

“It’s an amazing fact that every year, Gavi and its partners help immunize around half of all newborn children, protecting more than 760 million infants in the last two decades, and saving over 13 million lives,” he said.

Gavi is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, Unicef and the World Bank.

It wants to use the funds to maintain immunization programmes in developing nations, mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen health systems “so that countries are ready to rapidly introduce Covid-19 vaccines.”

It aims to increase the number of children immunized through its programmes to more than 1.1 billion by 2025.

“We want to increase the chance for more than 300 million young people to have a healthy life,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she made Germany’s pledge.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said vaccines were “the most important public health intervention in history, saving tens of millions of lives every year.”

Guterres said Thursday’s summit took place “at an uncertain time.”

“Covid-19 is the greatest public health crisis of our generation,” he said, urging the leaders to cooperate to develop a Covid-19 vaccine “as a global public good – a people’s vaccine.”

Gavi was founded in 2000 following an initiative by the Gates Foundation and partners to “encourage manufacturers to lower vaccine prices for the poorest countries in return for long-term, high-volume and predictable demand from those countries.”