WHO, World Leaders Team Up on Global Vaccine Program

Representatives from the United States and China were conspicuously absent from a virtual conference on plans for a Covid-19 vaccine.  

People wearing masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus take a selfie near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Friday. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

(CN) — The World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and world leaders launched an initiative on Friday to develop and distribute a vaccine against the novel coronavirus to billions of people around the world.

Calling for global cooperation to quell the lethal virus, several leaders pledged to share information and make sure the medicine, including a vaccine, and testing needed to end the pandemic will be distributed around the world at affordable prices.

“If we want to defeat this, we need to support all health care systems,” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a virtual news conference. “We must construct bridges across countries.”

Macron said finding a vaccine quickly, ramping up its production and then sending it around the world are vital.

“We are trying to develop this vaccine as quickly as possible,” he said. “We need to make sure this vaccine is available to people all around the world.”

The initiative aims to raise $8 billion during a pledge drive led by the European Union on May 4. The goal is to get as many people as possible around the world vaccinated.

“We must be able to manufacture this vaccine and roll it out around the world,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Finding and distributing the vaccine is the only way to win this battle,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The initiative – called the Access to Covid-19 Tools – is supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his philanthropic foundation. Gates has become deeply involved in efforts to create vaccines for other diseases and his foundation has funded research to prepare for pandemics like this one.

Although several national leaders from around the world were given a chance to express their support for the initiative, conspicuously absent from the virtual news conference were representatives from the U.S. and Chinese governments.

President Donald Trump has frozen funds to the WHO, alleging the Geneva-based United Nations health agency helped China cover up the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. He says the agency needs to be investigated.

In a statement to Courthouse News, the WHO said it welcomes “more countries coming on board.”

Leaders from France, South Africa, Germany, Costa Rica, Italy, Rwanda, Norway, Spain, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom pledged their support on Friday.

“We are facing a common threat, which we can only defeat with a common approach,” the health agency said.

The WHO said it is working with researchers from hundreds of institutions to develop and test vaccines and coordinating a global trial to assess the safety and efficacy of four therapeutics against Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

A concern is that treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 may be so expensive that many people will not be able to get them. For example, millions of people died from HIV because they could not get access to treatments.

Several major institutions that work on vaccines – among them the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and Global Fund – are also involved.

The initiative will be led by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and chairwoman of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and Andrew Witty, former chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant.

In a globalized world, the only way to make sure everyone is safe is when a global vaccine is available, said Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations.

“In an interconnected world none of us are safe unless all of us are safe,” he said.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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