World Bank President David Malpass said on Tuesday he is seeking board approval for a $12 billion (£9.33 billion) coronavirus vaccine financing plan to help poor and developing countries secure a sufficient share of vaccine doses when they become available in the coming months.
Malpass told Reuters in an exclusive interview that the initiative, part of $160 billion in coronavirus aid financing pledged by the multilateral lender, is aimed at helping countries procure and distribute vaccines early to healthcare and other essential workers and expand global production. He said the board was expected to consider the plan in early October.
Global competition for early coronavirus vaccine doses is already fierce, months ahead of any approvals, as wealthy countries move to secure supplies.
The U.S. government has pledged over $3 billion to secure hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines under development by Britain's AstraZeneca Plc and by U.S. drug giant Pfizer Inc and Germany's BioNTech SE .
Malpass said the World Bank plan aimed to put poor and middle-income countries, where the virus is spreading most rapidly, on the same footing as richer countries by ensuring they have financing to secure supplies and a system for distribution, which will encourage drugmakers to meet their demand.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Without early doses that can bring outbreaks under control, many of these countries risk economic collapse that will push hundreds of millions of people back into poverty.
"Our goal is to alter the course of the pandemic for the low- and middle-income developing countries," Malpass said. "This is a market signal to the manufacturers that there will be financing available for the developing countries and there will be demand. We will begin asking the manufacturers to begin creating allocations for these countries."Malpass said the World Bank also was asking wealthy countries that have "over-reserved" more doses than they will ultimately need to release those doses to poorer countries.
He added that he is working to persuade countries that equitable distribution of vaccines "is important to the world and will give a better outcome for the world."
Separately, Brent McIntosh, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, told a Foreign Policy magazine forum on Tuesday that wealthy countries were working on broad vaccine availability.
"There have been intense conversations among various developed countries on ensuring that there are vaccines available in the developing world and those conversations are ongoing at the highest levels," said McIntosh, who oversees U.S. involvement in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The World Bank program will disburse grant or loan funding to countries, and will be able to select any vaccine that meets safety criteria, including approval from multiple "highly respected, stringent regulatory agencies," such as those in the United States, Canada, Japan and several European countries, Malpass said.The World Bank's private-sector arm, the International Financing Corp, in July launched a $4 billion financing platform to boost investment in developing country production of vaccines and other critical health products.