Japan Leads Pledges of $2.4 Billion to Bridge Covax Funding Gap

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga led donations totaling $2.4 billion aimed at closing a funding gap that has hampered the distribution of coronavirus vaccinations to poorer nations around the world.

At a summit on Wednesday co-hosted with Gavi, the vaccine alliance, Suga said Japan will provide an additional $800 million to the World Health Organization-backed Covax initiative that is purchasing vaccines for 92 low-and-middle-income countries.

Almost 40 donor nations, companies and charities -- including Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- also promised to make additional financial contributions and provide millions of Covid-19 inoculations.

“There’s a need to close the funding gap as soon as possible,” said Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s foreign minister. Covax’s goals “cannot be met by one country alone,” Suga added.

The pledges provide a much needed boost for Covax, which has struggled to supply countries that have been unable to procure their own vaccines after wealthier ones snapped up most of the world’s existing shots. That was in part due to export curbs imposed by India, which was meant to be a major provider until it was hit by a brutal wave of infections. Covax has so far only shipped 77 million doses.

Global Rollout

Scientists have said that rolling vaccines out around the world will be key to ending the pandemic, which continues to rage in Asia. Infection numbers are dwindling in the U.S. and other countries whose immunization programs are relatively advanced.

The contributions at the summit exceeded a $1.7 billion target and Covax has now raised a total of $9.6 billion, which will help it distribute a targeted 1.8 billion doses by early 2022 and cover 30% of the population in participating countries.

“Global leaders clearly recognize the need for equitable access and support the principle that ability to pay should not determine whether someone is protected from this virus,” Seth Berkley, the chief executive officer of Gavi, said in a statement.

Along with the donations, the WHO on Tuesday bolstered Covax’s toolkit by authorizing the use of the vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

Though China’s shots have been criticized for their lower efficacy rates, the WHO backing has given additional inoculation options to Covax. Already cleared for emergency use by the WHO are shots from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE, AstraZeneca Plc, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna Inc.

Wednesday’s summit came as Japan struggled to accelerate its own vaccination program, with about 14 million doses so far given among its 126 million people, less than two month before it hosts the Olympics in Tokyo.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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