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Germany exploring possibility of dose-sharing, says German Federal President

In a joint press briefing, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier have called for fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to Steinmeier, the global community must ensure equitable access to COVID-19 tools both out of moral reasons and out of self-interest. Only if everyone everywhere is safe, can we prevent the virus and mutations from returning, he stated. Given the current scarcity of vaccine doses, providing the funding only, however, would not solve the problem, Steinmeier outlined. Therefore, Germany is currently exploring the possibility of sharing doses with other countries, although the scope and timeline are not clear yet.

Ghebreyesus echoed Steinmeier in stating that providing the funding would be useless if rich countries would at the same time undermine the COVAX initiative by only securing doses for themselves. The numbers of doses available in 2021 must thus be fairly distributed, Ghebreyesus said.

To the question of waiving patents to scale up vaccine production, both Steinmeier's and Ghebreyesus’ reactions were restrained. While Steinmeier called to not simplify the debate, Ghebreyesus stated that every possibility must be considered – even waivers on intellectual property –  to allow for the world’s recovery from this unprecedented health crisis.

Ghebreyesus further announced the plan of establishing a WHO center for public health intelligence and risk analysis in Berlin, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ghebreyesus agreed on last year.

News article – Tagesspiegel (in German)

Press briefing – WHO

At G7 meeting, Germany pledges additional US$1.8 billion in funding to ACT-A for global COVID-19 response

At a virtual G7 meeting, hosted by the UK Presidency to discuss the global COVID-19 response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged €1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) in additional funding to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), the global alliance to accelerate development, production, and promote fair access to COVID-19 tests, therapies, and immunization.

With this newly announced contribution, Germany is the largest donor to ACT-A. In her speech, Merkel emphasized the importance of international cooperation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which can only succeed if everyone everywhere is vaccinated. However, according to her, the provision of funding will only be one part of the equationtackling the pandemic also requires the timely delivery of vaccines. Therefore, it is pivotal for the COVAX vaccine distribution initiative to conclude contracts with manufacturers to distribute vaccines quickly to its partner countries, she said.

In addition to providing financial support, Germany is currently exploring the possibility to pass on some of the vaccines it has ordered for Germany to “poorer countries”, Merkel stated. However, the timeline and scale for potential dose-sharing are not clear yet. This would not put vaccine appointments at risk in Germany, she assured.

In addition to Germany, the US, the European Commission, Japan, and Canada announced new pledges for ACT-A or its COVAX pillar at the virtual G7 leaders' meeting and at the Munich Security Conference later in the day. In total, the G7 leaders contributed over US$4.3 billion in additional funding to ACT-A that day. With the new contributions made, ACT-A is left with a funding gap of US$22.9 billion to fully fund its work in 2021.

Press release – The Federal Chancellor

Press release – The Federal Chancellor (in German)

At UK-led G7 meeting, "collective G7 support" to ACT-A totals US$7.5 billion, but experts criticize UK for retaining surplus doses until citizens are fully vaccinated

The UK hosted its first virtual G7 leaders' meeting on February 19, 2021, after which "collective G7 support" totaled US$7.5 billion for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), an increase of over US$4.0 billion.

ACT-A's vaccine pillar, COVAX, is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and it aims to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines, including to low-income countries.

At the meeting, the US under the new Biden administration pledged to provide US$4.0 billion in development assistance to COVAX over the next three years, Germany pledged an additional US$1.8 billion, and the EU pledged an additional US$608 million.

These commitments were welcomed by the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, but he noted that more needs to be done. At present, only 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations worldwide, with 130 countries not yet receiving a single dose.

French President Emmanuel Macron is calling for greater action to address the imbalance, with a drive to get Europe and the US to provide 5% of their own supplies to low-income nations. The UK has ruled out doing this and has committed only to providing its surplus vaccines after its entire population has been vaccinated. This decision has been criticized by some UK global health experts, who have questioned the ethics of such a decision, whereby young people in the UK will receive the vaccine ahead of health workers and elderly in other countries.  

News article - BBC

News article - Devex

Biden pledges US$4.0 billion to COVAX, bringing US further into global COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Ahead of the virtual G7 meeting, US President Joseph Biden announced a pledge of US$4.0 billion for COVAX, the global initiative for COVID-19 vaccine access. The funds will include US$2.0 billion in already appropriated funds plus an additional US$2.0 billion over the next two years.  

COVAX is an international agreement spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) to increase the purchase and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to lower-income countries. Biden's announcement represents a reversal of the Trump administration's refusal to join the effort, driven in part by Trump's disapproval of the WHO. Biden also encouraged other G7 partners to follow through with their pledges.

Despite the funding decision, there are calls for the US and other wealthy countries to start sharing part of their vaccination supply with those poorer countries with no vaccines. Administration officials said that Biden is, for now, focused on most Americans getting vaccinated, and a White House statement said that the US will donate surplus doses "once there is sufficient supply in the United States".

News article - Associated Press

With additional G7 pledges of US$4.3 billion, ACT-A commitments to date stand at US$10.3 billion; funding gap of US$22.9 billion remains

On February 19, 2021, at the virtual G7 leaders' meeting, US$4.3 billion in new commitments were made to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and its vaccine pillar, COVAX, to contribute to closing the funding gap in global COVID-19 response and ensure equitable vaccine distribution. 

The contributions included the following:

  • Canada committed US$59 million to ACT-A;
  • Japan committed US$79 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a COVAX funding mechanism to support access to vaccines for lower-income countries, as well as to Unitaid;
  • Germany committed US$1.8 billion to ACT-A, covering all of ACT-A's pillars and including "tests, treatments, vaccines, and health systems strengthening";
  • US committed US$4.0 billion to COVAX AMC (US$2.0 billion in already appropriated funds and an additional US$2.0 billion over the next two years); and
  • The EU committed US$363 million to COVAX AMC, along with a US$242 million loan from the European Investment Bank backed by guarantees through the European Fund for Sustainable Development.

ACT-A initially needed US$38.1 billion for 2020-2021; following an early February Facilitation Council meeting, ACT-A announced that the remaining funding gap was US$27.2 billion.

Following the new contributions announced at the G7 meeting, the total committed to ACT-A to date was US$10.3 billion and the funding gap was brought down to US$22.9 billion, according to the WHO press release.

Press release - WHO

Press release - Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Australia, Papua New Guinea, Germany collaborate on trial of magnetic diagnostic test for malaria

Dr. Stefan Carl, a senior research fellow at James Cook University in North Queensland, has undertaken field trials of a new test that detects malaria-infected blood which included a field site of almost 1,000 people in Papua New Guinea.

The test detects malaria parasites through their magnetic properties. It holds the prospect of providing an outcome in ten minutes without requiring expensive reagents (added substances for chemical reactions) or detailed laboratory training.

The test was developed in a collaboration between German, Papua New Guinea, and Australian research centers.

News article - Mirage News

EU announces US$180 million HERA Incubator, new bio-defense preparedness plan to combat threat of COVID-19 variants

The European Commission announced a new addition to its vaccine strategy with a plan to bolster the EU’s preparedness against future COVID-19 variants of concern by investing €150 million (US$180 million) in research through a new 'HERA Incubator'.

The HERA Incubator – the first pilot initiative of the proposed new authority, the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) – will be a public-private cooperative effort to pool knowledge and resources between industry, scientists, and regulators. The incubator will focus on identifying and learning about variants quicker, researching on adapting vaccines, better organizing clinical trials, helping the European Medicines Agency (EMA) fast-track regulatory approval of updated vaccines, and upscaling mass production of new vaccines. 

The EU’s new bio-defense preparedness plan includes:

  • The newly launched 'Vaccelerate', an EU-wide clinical trials network; 
  • Standardizing and increasing genome sequencing across the bloc to 5% of all cases (from an average of 1%); 
  • Conducting research into the transmissibility of variants;
  • Supporting quick exchanges of relevant epidemiological and sequencing data; 
  • Developing new variant-specific diagnostics; 
  • Speeding up the EMA’s approval process for vaccines that are adapted to be more effective against variants of concern; and
  • Boosting vaccine manufacturing as a part of its 'EU Fab' project, which will be folded into HERA once the authority is established.

Press release - European Commission

Press release - European Commission

Factsheet - European Commission

Statement - European Commission

News article - Euractiv

News article - Science|Business

UK government proposes new resolution at UN Security Council to enable temporary ceasefires to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council to support temporary ceasefires in conflict-affected areas to enable a coordinated effort for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The resolution also calls on COVID-19 vaccination plans to include all high-risk populations, including refugees.

More than 160 million people worldwide are at risk of being excluded from vaccinations because of instability and conflict. Vaccination ceasefires are not new and have been successfully adopted in previous years to ensure those living in fragile contexts benefit from vaccination programs.  

The UK currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, for February 2021.

Press release - UK government

EU's newly released agenda for renewed multilateralism aims to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines

The European Commission and the European External Action Service released a new EU strategy for “renewed multilateralism” that includes the goal to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines through funding research and production, ensuring global access, and strengthening the global health system (including through leading on World Health Organization reform efforts).

The joint communication calls for the EU to step up its leadership and make better use of its ability to act as a "convenor, honest broker and bridge-builder,” calling for a “new generation of partnerships.”

Other categories of action include strengthening global recovery and tackling inequalities; combatting the climate crisis and building more sustainable systems; establishing global rules for new digital technologies; and modernizing global institutions.

Press release - European Commission

Factsheet - European Commission

Strategy document - European External Action Service

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Australia

Australia’s medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has announced that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in Australia and is considered safe for those over 65. This followed the World Health Organization’s recommendations on the vaccine.

The TGA recommended a 12-week gap between the first and second vaccine injections. The previously anticipated end date of October 2021 for all Australians to vaccinated may be pushed out further, due to this longer gap between the first and second shots.

The Australian government has agreed to buy 50 million doses of the vaccine from CSL Limited (formerly Commonwealth Serum Laboratories), the major Australian vaccine producer. Australia has also announced it will aim to provide COVID-19 doses for people in the Pacific and other regional countries.

CSL has already commenced production of the vaccine and aims to produce one million doses per week.  The company expressed that it is confident that, once supplied with updated materials, it could adapt the vaccine to combat new strains of the virus.

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

UK hosts first G7 finance ministers’ meeting, centering green recovery, support to vulnerable countries, jobs protections, taxes on digital economy

The UK hosted its first virtual G7 Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ meeting on February 12, 2021. The UK Chancellor for the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, led the meeting by calling upon his counterparts – the Finance Ministers and Central Governors from France, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US, and Japan – to ensure a green recovery post-COVID-19 by putting the climate and nature at the center of all economic and financial decision-making in 2021.

Sunak also called for G7 countries to work with international institutions to enable vulnerable countries to manage the pandemic. This included supporting a rapid and fair vaccine distribution, and supporting debt relief, with a call for private-sector creditors to help ensure sustainable debt treatment to the poorest countries and ensure access to credit and grants for low-income countries.

Sunak also called for the G7 finance ministers to focus in the year ahead on protecting jobs and reaching a global solution to the tax challenges created by the digitalization of the economy.

The meeting comes ahead of the UK’s first G7 virtual leaders meeting on February 19, 2021.

Press release - UK government

News article - Devex

UK provides support to Pakistan in fight against COVID-19; parliamentary committee opens inquiry into effectiveness of UK development assistance to Pakistan

The British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr. Christian Turner, has praised the UK’s support to Pakistan in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Turner noted the indirect support the UK government has provided through its funding to the COVAX Facility, an international partnership aimed at resourcing the development and fair distribution of new vaccines, treatments, and tests. COVAX is providing Pakistan with 17 million doses of the UK-developed Oxford University-Astra-Zeneca vaccine in the coming months which will help to protect 9 million from the virus and has committed to providing a total of 45 million doses. The UK has provided £548 million (US$736 million) in development assistance to COVAX, along with a further £250 million (US$335 million) in match funding which raised US$1.0 billion in additional resources from other donors to the facility.

The UK has also provided £20 million (US$26 million) in additional development assistance to Pakistan to fight the pandemic, including funding the World Health Organization to build laboratory testing capacity through training and provision of equipment across Pakistan.

Pakistan has been the UK government’s largest bilateral country program for the last five years and has received an estimated £302 million (US$405 million) between 2019 and 2020 in development assistance. The UK parliamentary committee on International Development has opened an inquiry into the effectiveness of UK development policy to Pakistan which will look at strategic focus, value for money, and the degree to which assistance is focused on the most marginalized and vulnerable. The inquiry will also examine how UK development assistance has adapted to support the COVID-19 response in Pakistan. Written submissions to the inquiry need to be submitted by April 1, 2021.

Press release - UK government

News article - UK parliamentary committee on International Development

20+ German NGOs call on BioNTech, CureVac to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines

In a joint letter, a German alliance of more than 20 NGOs has called on the German pharmaceutical companies BioNTech and CureVac to make the COVID-19 vaccine they developed available globally in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices.

The NGO alliance urged the companies to temporarily waive the patents to make the knowledge and technologies available to other companies during the pandemic – preferably via the World Health Organization's (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-Tap). The companies should provide transparency regarding clinical test data and manufacturing costs, the alliance posited, and share portions of the COVID-19 vaccine doses they produce with low- and middle-income countries to ensure equitable access and fair distribution globally.

Given that both companies had received federal funding of several hundred million euros for COVID-19 vaccine development, the companies are now responsible for providing people worldwide access to the vaccines, the NGOs argued in the letter, and thus the companies should explain what specific measures they are planning to take regarding the aspects of transparency, affordability, licensing, technology transfer, and fair access to meet this obligation.

Through the €750 million (US$913 million) COVID-19 vaccine development program of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, CureVac and BioNTech had received €230 million (US$280 million) and €375 million (US$456 million), respectively, in 2020. The vaccine developed by BioNTech and its US partner company Pfizer is already being used in numerous countries, including Germany, while the CureVac vaccine is not approved yet.

Press release – Ärzte ohne Grenzen (letter to CureVac, in German)

Press release – Ärzte ohne Grenzen (letter to BioNTech, in German)

News article – Tagesschau (in German)

German budget committee to consider additional US$1.8 billion in funding to ACT-A for vaccine access in low-income countries

According to the Reuters news agency, the German government wants to provide an additional €1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) in funding to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), a global initiative to ensure affordable and equitable access for all to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

While the government has not officially announced the funding provision yet, the information is based on a submission by the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) to the German Budget Committee, which is available to Reuters.

According to the submission, of this €1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion), the BMF plans to channel €620 million (US$754 million) to the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and another €100 million (US$122 million) to the provision of vaccines for humanitarian purposes, among others. Further funding shall be channeled to vaccine research, therapeutics, diagnostics, and the strengthening of health systems.

The Budget Committee has to approve the BMF’s funding request.

News article – Tagesschau (in German)

News article – Tagesspiegel (in German; with paywall)

ACT-A Facilitation Council announces funding gap of US$27.2 billion, asks countries not to compete with COVAX vaccine contracts

The Facilitation Council of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) had its fourth meeting on February 9, 2021, to discuss its 2021 agenda and needs, including closing the funding gap of US$27.2 billion for 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, co-hosted and began his introductory remarks by welcoming the newly-joined US under President Joe Biden to ACT-A. 

Ghebreyesus stressed that more than 90% of countries currently administering COVID-19 vaccines are wealthy, and 75% of all doses given have been given in just ten countries. Nearly 130 countries, he said, have not administered a single dose.

ACT-A and the COVAX Facility were created as part of global efforts coordinated by the WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, among others, in order to increase access to vaccines and promote vaccine equity internationally, and these goals are being threatened, said Ghebreyesus.

He called for:

  1. Full financing of ACT-A and COVAX: The financing gap is at more than US$27.2 billion for 2021. He called on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries to commit a proportion of stimulus financing and to unlock capital in multilateral development banks to help close the gap.
  2. Respect for COVAX contracts from all countries and a non-competition commitment: He referred here to countries who continue to sign bilateral vaccine deals while many nations have no vaccine doses at all. Ghebreyesus reiterated WHO's goal that the vaccination of health workers should be in progress in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021, which means that countries with more doses need to share and donate doses before going on to vaccinate their lower-risk populations. He warned that if COVID-19 is not suppressed globally, that variants of the virus could result in the world "back at square one".
  3. An urgent increase in manufacturing to increase the volume of vaccines: This could include "innovative partnerships including tech transfer, licensing and other mechanisms to address production bottlenecks".

Experts have warned that all countries need to take an "internationalist", not nationalist, approach to vaccination rollout and tacking COVID-19, otherwise experts fear that some low-income countries may not receive vaccines until 2024.

Visuals from the 'ACT-A Prioritized Strategy & Budget for 2021' presentation illustrate the contributors of a total of US$6.0 billion to ACT-A, as of February 3, and the breakdown of the US$27.2 billion needed for 2021. According to an update as of February 12, ACT-A has an additional US$4.0 billion in projected funding, so the US$27.2 billion funding gap "will be reduced to US$23.2 billion as projected funds are operationalized."

Transcript - WHO

Event website - WHO

Norway allocates US$57 million to global health research

The Norwegian government will channel NOK500 million (US$57 million) to global health research through the Norwegian Research Council over the next ten years.

This newly announced funding will be aimed at reducing challenges related to universal health care and strengthening systems for primary health services in low- and lower-middle-income countries. The long-term funding also aims to reduce the gap between research and practice and to make it easier to ensure that the relevant research is taking part in the outline of new policies. 

Since the early 2000s, Norway has increased its research efforts to provide good health services, combat infectious diseases, and prevent deaths among mothers and children in partner countries. The Norwegian Research Council's initiatives have been essential in this work. 

Press release - The Norwegian Research Council (in Norwegian)

Publication of UK’s Integrated Review on defense, diplomacy, development delayed again until March 2021

The long-awaited publication of the UK government’s integrated review of its defense, foreign, and development policy and practice has been furthered delayed and is now expected in early March 2021.

The review, the largest foreign policy review since the Cold War has been led by the Prime Minister and the National Security Council. Initially planned to be published in Autumn 2020, the Review has been plagued by delays and setbacks, frustrating many members of parliament.

The review is expected to be highly influential in guiding the UK’s development assistance strategy, particularly as it will now incorporate a soft power strategy, which was meant to be published separately but has now been folded into the review.

News article - Prospect Magazine

Report - Parliamentary report

 

At OECD release, Spanish development leadership calls for equal access to COVID-19 vaccines

In recognition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s launch event of its annual Development Cooperation Report, the Spanish Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Ángeles Moreno, stated that strengthening multilateralism and global governance were the only ways to overcome the current COVID-19 crisis.

Moreno also underlined Spain’s strong commitment to the global response to COVID-19, outlined the importance of multilateral instruments such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), and urged the international community to guarantee universal access to new COVID-19 vaccines.

Press release – MAUC (in Spanish)

Spanish NGOs meet development leadership officials to shape assistance system reform

On February 8, 2021, representatives from the development NGO umbrella organization ‘La Coordinadora’ met with the Spanish Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Ángeles Moreno, and the Director of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), Magdy Solimán. The objective of this meeting was to review the current government’s plans to deeply reform Spain’s development cooperation system.

According to La Coordinadora, Moreno reiterated the government’s intentions to increase Spain’s development assistance to 0.5% of the country’s gross national income by the end of the current term of office and underlined the need to strengthen Spanish cooperation and eliminate existing administrative bottlenecks in order to effectively address such budgetary grow.

La Coordinadora took advantage of the meeting to present its proposal paper to the Spanish government titled ‘A new cooperation system to change the world’, which was launched in January 2021 after gathering input and recommendations from up to 300 people involved in Spain’s development affairs.

Press release - La Coordinadora (in Spanish)

Proposal paper - La Coordinadora (in Spanish)

Pacific, South-East Asian countries will prefer Australian vaccines due to strict regulatory standards, says Morrison

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has indicated that Australia’s vaccines would be provided to Pacific and South-East Asian countries and that countries were likely to prefer those vaccines due to the rigorous approval processes followed by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

He informed the leaders at the Pacific Island Forum that Australia planned to spend A$200 million (US$151 million) to support vaccination programs in the Pacific. An additional A$300 million (US$226 million) would be provided to support vaccination programs in South-East Asia.

Transcript - Prime Minister of Australia