World leaders call for pooling resources against COVID-19 as U.S. continues to point fingers
As calls to pool countermeasures against COVID-19 grew Monday and Beijing committed $2 billion to the WHO, Washington continues to show little interest in cooperating with other governments via the world body to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of governments made pledges of equitable access and shared IP on the first day of a two-day meeting of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO. The Trump administration used the event as a forum to renew its attacks on the WHO and China for what Washington sees as a lack of transparency regarding the severity of the outbreak.
President Xi Jinping said in prepared remarks that China will provide the funding to the WHO over two years as part of its COVID-19 response. It will aid economic and social development in affected countries, and in particular developing countries such as those in Africa.
Xi also assured other world leaders that a vaccine developed in China, when available, “will be made a global public good.”
Concerns about the potential for vaccine nationalism have risen as the first data for leading vaccines have emerged, including non-human primate data from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. (NASDAQ:SVA). Supplies could initially be restricted to individuals living in countries where vaccines are manufactured, wealthy countries could out bid poorer nations for surplus vaccines, and governments could use vaccines as instruments of diplomacy or coercion (see “Manufacturing Limits Spark Fears of Vaccine Nationalism”).
China is not among a coalition that proposed on Monday a COVID-19 response resolution that calls for “universal, timely and equitable access to and fair distribution of all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies and products,” as well as the “removal of unjustified obstacles.”
The resolution, proposed by 35 countries plus the EU, specifically calls for the use of “voluntary pooling and licensing of patents to facilitate timely, equitable and affordable access” to diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines for COVID-19. It has not yet been voted on.
The U.S. also did not join the resolution.
In his prepared remarks, HHS Secretary Alex Azar echoed talking points made by President Donald Trump when he halted the U.S.’s funding to the WHO in April.
“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives,” Azar said. He added, without explicitly naming China, “in an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.”
In April, Trump claimed that the WHO relied on COVID-19 data from China’s government without conducting its own research and tied that, without offering evidence, to an increased loss of life (see “Trump Suspends WHO Funding”).
Separate from the resolution, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday the organization will take up a patent pool program proposed by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada and Health Minister Daniel Salas Peraza in March.
The pool, Quesada and Peraza had said, should provide “free access or reasonable and affordable licensing terms” in all member countries.
The WHO will launch the program on May 29 to pool data, knowledge and IP for COVID-19 countermeasures to allow for the open sharing of science and data.