Trudeau, other world leaders hold virtual summit pledging billions for COVID-19 vaccine

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined world leaders in a virtual pledging conference with the aim of raising at least 7.5 billion euros to fund global research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, where he highlighted Canada's contribution of more than 850 million dollars that will be invested in research and vaccine development, funding for the World Health Organization's work on treatment, and supporting developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic – May 4, 2020

Canada joined the global community Monday in helping to raise $11 billion toward a COVID-19 vaccine, amid promises to avoid past pandemic practice and make it available for all.

That hasn’t happened with past outbreaks, including the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, where richer countries got a vaccine first at the expense of poorer ones.

A viable vaccine must be available and affordable for all countries, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday, while Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said victory over the virus will take more than great minds in laboratories.

“It will also take a firm commitment to multilateral institutions, and it will take resources,” said Michel.

READ MORE: Researchers ‘very confident’ vaccine for coronavirus will be developed

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The pledging conference is partially a response to the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pause funding to the World Health Organization because of concerns that it mismanaged the outbreak of the novel coronavirus earlier on.

“We must learn the lessons from the fight against HIV and swine flu where the narrow self-interests of corporations and governments meant vaccines and treatments were too expensive or arrived too late,” Anna Marriott, head of Oxfam’s health policy, said in a statement.

“President Trump remains isolated and antagonistic to an international collaboration aimed at saving lives of people across the globe. No one individual, community, or country can overcome this crisis alone — we must all work together.”

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EU diplomats said the United States, which has the world’s most confirmed COVID-19 cases, was not taking part.

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A senior U.S. administration official declined to say specifically why the United States was not participating.

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“We support this pledging effort by the EU. It is one of many pledging efforts that are going on and the United States is at the forefront,” the official told reporters by telephone.

Britain’s envoy to Canada says the search for and eventual distribution of a new COVID-19 vaccine can’t be a competitive process that deprives people in poorer countries.

“Right at the heart of that is the discovery and effective dissemination of an effective vaccine ? it has to be an effort of collaboration rather than an effort of competition,” Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said in an interview Monday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus deaths top 250,000 worldwide as Italy, U.S. ease restrictions

Britain and the European Union co-hosted Monday’s virtual pledging conference to raise more than $11 billion towards finding a vaccine.

Britain made a five-year commitment totalling nearly $2.9 billion to the effort, but le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said the world will be called upon next month to make a similar commitment.

Britain is hosting the replenishment conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, viewed as a key partner in making sure a new vaccine reaches the people who need it. The international organization, which has immunized 760 million children since 2000, is seeking more than $8 billion in new five-year replenishment at a conference in June.

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In his address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted that Canada has already promised $850 million towards the international effort to fight the spread of the pandemic.

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When asked why Canada didn’t offer new money today, he said the event was “only the beginning” in the effort to find, manufacture and distribute a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

“We know that the safety of our own citizens depends on how we keep people around the world safe,” Trudeau said at the conference that took place online Monday.

“We need to take care of ourselves by taking care of the rest of the world.”

Trudeau also spoke with Bill and Melinda Gates last week about the need to support the event and to promote co-operation in developing and distributing a vaccine — and not just to those in wealthy countries.

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The Gates Foundation is one of the leading international players in the search for a vaccine.

READ MORE: Researchers ‘very confident’ vaccine for coronavirus will be developed

Last week, one of its senior executives said events such as the pledging conference are only the start of raising money for an effort that could cost upwards of $20 billion.

Like Canada, other countries are trying to develop a vaccine formula or treatment that will allow the world to stop the pandemic and return to a state of normalcy.

But discovering a viable vaccine won’t be enough to prevent future outbreaks, said the head of the World Health Organization.

“The true measure of success will not only be how fast we can develop safe and effective tools — it will be how equally we can distribute them,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.

“The potential for continued waves of infection of COVID-19 across the globe demands that every single person on the planet be protected from this disease.”

READ MORE: World needs a plan ensure a COVID-19 vaccine can reach everyone: experts

Countries are already working together to pool research and data to help in the development of a vaccine, and work has already begun to plot out a way to manufacture a viable formula on a worldwide scale, according to Canada’s health minister.

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“It is almost like a race, but a race where you want everyone to be able to cross the finish line at once,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said at a briefing Monday.

She said that while every country wants to find a way to vaccine their own citizens against the virus, everyone in the world will be at risk until a vaccine is made available worldwide.

—With files from Reuters

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