The World Health Organization’s program to secure and distribute billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world’s poorest countries has received a major financial boost.
The COVAX initiative received nearly $2.4 billion in pledges Wednesday during a virtual summit hosted by Japan, which made the largest pledge with $800 million. The program also received significant financial pledges from Canada, France, Spain and Sweden. COVAX has raised $9.6 billion since its creation.
Several nations also pledged to donate millions of doses from its domestic stockpiles to COVAX, with Japan also leading the way with a promise to donate 30 million doses.
COVAX, the acronym for COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, is an alliance that includes the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, an organization founded by Bill and Melinda Gates to vaccinate children in the world’s poorest countries. The program has so far distributed 77 million vaccine doses to 127 countries, far below its initial pledge of up to 2 billion doses this year.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris reminded the summit that the Biden administration has pledged $4 billion to COVAX this year and for 2022, but made no fresh pledges of additional financial or vaccine donations. President Joe Biden has also pledged to donate 80 million doses from the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine stockpile. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Reuters news agency is reporting that India has signed a contract with domestic biotechnology firm Biological-E to purchase 300 million doses of its experimental vaccine. The Health Ministry said Thursday it has paid the firm a $205 million advance to secure the vaccine, which is currently undergoing widespread late-stage clinical trials.
Also from Reuters, Taiwan’s government has approved legislation that will allocate nearly $3 million toward the island’s COVID-19 response efforts. The money will allow the Health Ministry to buy and test vaccines and treatments and to help improve monitoring and testing for the coronavirus.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Eric Lander, President Biden’s new science adviser, said he envisions a future where a new vaccine could be ready within 100 days of the initial recognition of “a virus with pandemic potential.” Lander said that could be done through a so-called “plug-and-play” process that adds the genetic code for the germ using messenger RNA technology, which was used to develop both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
With just weeks to go before the opening ceremonies, the troubled Tokyo Olympics sustained another blow this week when 10,000 volunteers quit due to concerns about the surge of new infections sweeping Japan.
Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, told reporters Wednesday the resignations would not have a negative impact on the event since foreign spectators have been banned from attending the Games.
The Tokyo Olympics were postponed for a year in 2020 as the pandemic began spreading across the globe. Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, ruled out another postponement in an interview in the Nikkan Sports newspaper Thursday.
But Dr. Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical advisor, told a parliamentary committee Wednesday that it would be abnormal to hold the Olympics during the current surge of infections, and said it was the organizers’ responsibility to scale down the Games if the situation continued.
The Tokyo Olympics are facing growing public opposition amid the new wave of COVID-19 infections and a slow rate of vaccinations. The Japanese capital and several other regions in Japan are under a state of emergency that was set to expire Monday, but has been extended until June 20, just over a month before the opening ceremonies.
A public opinion survey published Monday by the Nikkei business newspaper revealed that more than 60% of those asked want the Games to either be delayed again or canceled outright, compared to just 34% in favor of holding the event as scheduled.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, a major sponsor of the Games, published an editorial last week calling for the event’s cancellation due to the worsening COVID-19 crisis, becoming the first major Japanese newspaper to do so. The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, which represents about 6,000 primary care doctors and hospitals, has also called on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to convince the International Olympic Committee to cancel the event.