The World Health Organization (WHO) and other aid groups appealed to leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies to fund a $23.4 billion plan to bring COVID-19 vaccines, tests and drugs to poorer countries. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the Group of 20, whose leaders are meeting in Rome, had the political and financial power needed to end the pandemic by funding the plan.
The latest update of the so-called Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), until September 2022, is expected to include use of an experimental oral antiviral pill, which is made by Merck & Co for treating mild and moderate cases. If the pill is approved by regulatory authorities, the cost could be as little as $10 per course. Carl Bildt, WHO Special Envoy to the ACT-Accelerator, told reporters that the request is for $23.4 billion. Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, acknowledged that the ACT-A has struggled to secure previous financing.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, told the media that he is hoping and urging that the G20 will make a commitment to end the pandemic. Equal budgets of $7 billion are earmarked for both vaccines and diagnostic tests. $5.9 billion for boosting health systems and $3.5 billion for treatments including antivirals, corticosteroids, and medical oxygen. COVAX, the vaccines arm of the ACT-A, has delivered some 400 million COVID-19 doses to more than 140 low- and middle-income countries, said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan. About 82 countries are likely to miss a WHO global target of 40% vaccination coverage by year-end.
Swaminathan added that one of the things that is now interfering in a big way is the need for boosters. Nearly a million booster jabs are being given each day, which is three times the amount of vaccines being administered in low-income countries. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering emergency use authorization of molnupiravir, the antiviral pill Merck has developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID said that this is a drug that they are currently evaluating and met with Merck. And that is to discuss data from their current clinical trials that are under way in other countries.