In a virtual summit held today, world leaders will discuss raising $8.2 billion to fund research for a vaccine to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Tanzia Haq analyzes what this means for the current crisis.
The leaders at the summit included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, prime minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte, prime minister of Norway Erna Solberg, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council and president of the EC Ursula von der Leyen.
The leaders released a joint statement before the summit stating that they hope to: “bring together the world’s best and most prepared minds to find vaccines, treatments and therapies needed to make the world healthy again…with particular attention to Africa”
The objective of the research fund is to ensure the vaccine reaches the most vulnerable countries, and not just the countries involved in the funding. The summit is a result of a previous gathering of world leaders and the WHO on 24 April to discuss a unified response to the pandemic. Neither China nor the US attended this summit. Given President Trump’s antagonistic attitude towards China and dismissal of the WHO, it is easy to assume the US will not be present at this summit either.
The summit is being held to not just pledge funds, but also to plan out efficient ways to conduct research so that resources are not wasted and the vaccine can be completed in time. Currently the plan is to focus funding into a few promising vaccines before mass producing the two most with the most effective results. The WHO has estimated that 89 vaccines are globally under development, which is a huge drain on resources if not coordinated. The leaders aim to subsidize the production of vaccines before final clinical trials are complete. The total estimated cost is said to reach $40 billion.
Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, stated: “The more we pull together and share our expertise, the faster our scientists will succeed. 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. It’s humanity against the virus – we are in this together, and together we will prevail.”
The fundraising effort will be an expansion of a previous coalition formed in 2017 to battle Ebola known as the Global Coalition on Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Another global pandemic board working with the WHO will be bolstered by the G20 countries. Research hubs will be established to coordinate on vaccines and testing patients with the disease. The operations will follow the Global Vaccine and Immunization Alliance (GAVI) model, which has succeeded in keeping prices low on essential vaccines by guaranteeing long term profits to the companies that produced the vaccines.
The European call to action could be in response to America’s internalization of research for vaccines. Representatives of the US government have already stated that American innovation will be protected, mainly from China, which has been accused of copying American technology illegally in the past. John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security have said that coronavirus vaccines are today’s ‘holy grail’. Demers stated that aside from predictably huge profits, there is a great geopolitical advantage to being the first country to develop a cure.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a televised interview on NBC: “We are going to start ramping up production with the companies involved,” meaning that companies will be creating production lines even before a promising cure is discovered, such is the value placed by governments on a coronavirus vaccine. But once again, capitalism is prevailing in that priority is being placed on the prestige and profits of finding the vaccine, not the human lives it can save.