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Tracking the Billions of Dollars Injected Into Research of COVID-19 Vaccines

by Milcah Lukhanyu
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To many in the medical field, Coronavirus is not a new name and the virus has been around for quite a while.

However, to the masses, coronavirus is a new virus and the COVID-19 pandemic is seen to have started in China in late 2019 and spread quickly around the world by March 2020.

The funding of a vaccine is therefore nothing new to those in the medical field as researchers have been working for years on Coronavirus vaccines just before the virus was declared a pandemic. Scientists have spent years and millions of dollars into vaccine technologies for emerging viral threats such as Coronavirus.

Organizations such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), Oxford University among others have been working on a vaccine that could be quickly tweaked to target COVID-19 which as set nations into panic.

In Africa, the African Union and Africa CDC dispatched the Africa COVID-19 Response Fund to help nations get back on their feet again, manage the virus and work on vaccine distribution and the International Monetary Fund also chipped in with zero-interest cash advances to affected low-pay nations for the dame.

Just a few months into the pandemic, more than $39.5 billion has been set aside for vaccine research, development and distribution by governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and the private sector.

One of such government agency was the U.K. Division for International Development which announced £20 million funding for COVID-19 vaccine development and subsidizing. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust declared $100 and $13 million respectively. The Jack Ma Foundation announced a $2 million fund for vaccine development and medication. By the end of February 2020, over $254 million had been announced for vaccine development globally and $2.2 billion had been declared during March.

In April 2020, $1.1 billion new declarations were made and in May 2020, the new declarations leaped to $22 billion. The European Commission and Global Citizen added another €15.9 billion for rapid vaccine development.

In June 2020, another $12.7 billion was added to the vaccine kitty driven by the $8.8 billion from Gavi while China advanced a billion-dollars Latin America and the Caribbean countries in the same line while the EU set aside $2.7 billion for its member nations to buy the vaccine.

July and August 2020, saw the funding hit $95.3 million. The Gates Foundation then added $15 million for vaccine safety and additional $75.5 million to build confidence in the safety of vaccines by ensuring reliable vaccine information is disseminated.

The World Bank also announced $12 billion for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments for their citizens.

The financing was part of an overall World Bank Group (WBG) package of up to $160 billion through June 2021 to help developing countries fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It adds new financing to the World Bank’s COVID-19 emergency response programs that are already reaching 111 countries. This financing package helps signal to the research and pharmaceutical industry that citizens in developing countries also need access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.  It will also provide financing and technical support so that developing countries can prepare for deploying vaccines at scale, in coordination with international partners.

“We are extending and expanding our fast-track approach to address the COVID emergency so that developing countries have fair and equal access to vaccines,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “Access to safe and effective vaccines and strengthened delivery systems is key to alter the course of the pandemic and help countries experiencing catastrophic economic and fiscal impacts move toward a resilient recovery.”

In addition to purchasing COVID-19 vaccines, the WBG financing will also support countries to access to COVID-19 tests and treatments, and expand immunization capacity to help health systems deploy the vaccines effectively.  This includes supply chain and logistics management for vaccine storage handling, trained vaccinators, and large-scale communication and outreach campaigns to reach communities and households.

The new financing builds on the broader World Bank health program, which focuses on strengthening the health systems and health service delivery. The Bank’s robust network of technical advice and implementation support capacity, already working on the ground in many developing countries with partner agencies, will help to further strengthen these systems.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the WBG’s private sector arm, is also investing in vaccine manufacturers through its $4 billion Global Health Platform. Apart from vaccine development, the World Bank Group deployed up to $160 billion in financial support to more than 100 countries to protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans.

African telecommunications giant MTN has announced a $25 million boost towards the African Union’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. MTN Group says the donation will help secure up to seven million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for health workers across the continent, which will contribute to the vaccination initiative of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

South Africa is scheduled to give the first one million shots of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine produced in India this week starting this week for healthcare workers. The country, worst hit in Africa, expects to issues its second batch of 500,000 jabs later in February.

Generally, vaccines take long years of research and testing before reaching human consumption but due to the seriousness of the epidemic, scientists worked on the vaccine in a record time. There are over 65 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and 20 have reached the final stages of testing and nearly 89 preclinical vaccines are under active investigation in animals. To put a total figure on how much has been spent on research and vaccine trials might not be easy but billions of dollars have been spent for years to get a vaccine to everyone globally and much more will be spent before the end of the year.

The top four vaccine developers include a partnership between Oxford University and the British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca; Chinese company CanSino Biologics and a JV between drug giant Pfizer and the German company BioNTech and technology firm Moderna were among the first few vaccine developers with good results and ready for human consumption.

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