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World leaders pledge €7.4bn to research Covid-19 vaccine

EU-hosted talks tout cooperation but is not addressed by India, Russia or US

PATRICK WINTOUR | World leaders, with the notable exception of Donald Trump, stumped up nearly €7.4bn (£6.5bn) to research Covid-19 vaccines and therapies at a virtual event convened by the EU, pledging the money will also be used to distribute any vaccine to poor countries on time and equitably.

But in a sign of the fractured state of global health diplomacy, the event was not addressed by India, Russia or the US. After a weekend of persuasion, China was represented by its ambassador to the EU.

A separate Covid-19 summit was staged earlier in the day and addressed by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, and other world leaders including the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.

The EU-convened virtual summit was addressed in person by the leaders of France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, Japan, Jordan, Norway, Israel, South Africa and the EU, and took the form of a pledging marathon.

But the US state department released a statement welcoming what it described as “the pledging conference in Europe”, even though the fundraising summit had always been envisaged as a global, rather than strictly European effort.

The US also highlighted its “vaccine partnership to prioritise drug candidates and streamline clinical trials”. Trump has suggested a vaccine will be ready by the end of the year but many scientists are sceptical that even with global cooperation such a timetable can be met.

The money is largely designed to speed up the process by raising guaranteed funds to coordinate research and incentivise pharmaceutical companies to distribute any vaccines and therapies to poorer countries, something that did not happen in the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said any distributed vaccine “won’t belong to anybody”.

“Those who invent it of course will be fairly paid, but access will be given to people across the globe by the organisation we chose,” he said.

EU officials said pharmaceutical companies who will receive the funding will not be requested to forgo their intellectual property rights on the new vaccine and treatments, but they should commit to make them available worldwide at affordable prices. A similar process has occurred through Gavi, the global vaccine fund, which gives a global alliance leverage over the distribution and price of a vaccine.

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