- The World Health Organization, together with partner organizations, aims to secure 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2021, unveiling Friday a creative plan to ensure high-risk groups around the world have access to any vaccine that's successfully developed.
- The health agency estimates $11 billion will be needed over the next six months to put its plan into action, and just over $18 billion through 2021, at which point the WHO hopes to have brought the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic to an end.
- Through the WHO's plan, countries would be able to pool their resources to invest in the development a broad portfolio of experimental vaccines, obtaining in return a guaranteed share of the resulting supplies. The idea is to lessen the risk of betting on any one vaccine, while creating a mechanism by which doses are fairly allocated during the initial stages of a vaccine's availability.
Some 16 vaccine candidates are now in clinical testing around the world, the most advanced of which are already in mid-stage trials.
Wealthier governments, such as the U.S. and U.K., have invested billion of dollars in funding development and manufacturing of several leading candidates, securing supply commitments for their citizens in the process.
Such agreements won't be feasible for many countries, however — a challenge the WHO aims to address with its new plan, part of the previously announced Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
"We can do the R&D, we can manufacture the doses, but if it doesn't get to the people who need them the most, then it's of no use," said Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO's chief scientist, during a press conference Friday.
While the U.S. and Europe have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 cases are rising quickly in many low- and middle-income countries, such as Brazil, India, Chile and Mexico.
Working with the vaccine groups CEPI and GAVI, the WHO has set up an investment facility that will put money towards developing and manufacturing a number of the more promising vaccine candidates, as well as providing for procurement and delivery should any succeed.
Currently, the WHO has about $2.6 billion available of the $18.1 billion it anticipates needing over the next year and a half. It's seeking commitments from high income and upper-middle income countries to buy 950 million vaccine doses through the facility, a level of demand that would convince vaccine manufacturers to scale up production and set aside supplies.
The remaining 1 billion doses of the 2 billion the WHO hopes to procure by the end of 2021 would go to lower-income countries, particularly populations that are at higher risk like healthcare workers, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
Signing up for the investment facility would guarantee participating countries an initial allocation of any successful vaccine, thereby preventing a country from losing out should a front-running candidate fail in testing.
The WHO estimates the chance of success for an experimental vaccine prior to Phase 2 testing to be less than 20%.
"At any given time, there will be a vaccine or two that will be in the front of the race," said Andrew Witty, a former chief executive for GlaxoSmithKline and now a special envoy to the WHO. "It's important not to lose sight of the big diversified pool that's moving along."
In addition to the 16 vaccine candidates in testing, another 125 are in preclinical development, according to the World Health Organization.