Scott Morrison has promised more than $352 million as part of a global coronavirus vaccine fundraiser, but the World Health Organisation issued a stark warning.
Scott Morrison has pledged $A352 million to a vaccine research fundraiser which has amassed promises of more than $A12 billion from countries around the world.
The funds, pledged at a videoconference summit hosted by the EU, fell marginally short of the 7.5b euros ($A12.8b) being sought, but more money could arrive in coming days.
Notably absent from the event was the US, where more than 67,000 people have died, and Russia.
Mr Morrison sent a video message for the electronic event, hosted by EU President Ursula von der Leyen overnight, saying: “G’day from Australia. COVID-19 is putting us all to the test and it is a test we are all rising to. This is a great shared project by the peoples of the world with a clear purpose to find that vaccine for COVID-19. A safe vaccine, available to all, affordable to all.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the target being sought to help find a vaccine, new treatments and better tests for the disease would only ever amount to a “down payment” on the tools that will be needed. “To reach everyone, everywhere, we likely need five times that amount,” Mr Guterres said.
Governments have reported around 3.5 million infections and more than 247,000 deaths from the virus, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. But deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the strain on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is much greater. Ms von der Leyen wrapped up the event after three hours in which 7.4b euros ($A12.6b) was collectively pledged for vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.
“All this money will help kickstart unprecedented global co-operation,” she said.
The original aim was to gather around 4b euros ($A6.8b) for vaccine research, some 2b euros ($A3.4b) for treatments and 1.5b euros ($1.64b) for testing. The pledges were hard to track, beyond coming in various currencies. Some countries announced money for their own national research efforts combined with funds they would offer to international organisations.
Others also proposed a mix of loans with their funding. Pledges made toward vaccine research since January 30 were also counted.
Apart from many European leaders, heads of state and government from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey spoke at the event, along with China’s EU ambassador.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned that “a race against time is under way” as he donated 500m euros ($A854m) on behalf of France.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the race to discover the vaccine was not a competition between countries, but “the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes”.
Among the larger contributions, Japan pledged more than $A1.2 billion while Germany offered 525m euros ($A896m).
Italy and Spain, perhaps the hardest hit by the virus in Europe, each said they would provide more than 100m euros ($A171m).
Switzerland, the Netherlands and Israel also pledged 378m euros ($A645m), 192m euros ($A328m) and $US60m ($A94m), respectively.
About 100 research groups are pursuing vaccines, with nearly a dozen in early stages of human trials or poised to start.
The US government’s top expert Dr Anthony Fauci has cautioned that even if everything goes perfectly, developing a vaccine in 12 to 18 months would set a record for speed.
WHO’S STARK VIRUS VACCINE WARNING
But as scores of researchers across the world scramble to develop vaccines for the novel coronavirus, a World Health Organisation envoy is cautioning that one may never appear at all, according to a new report.
According to the New York Post, Dr David Nabarro, who also serves as a professor of global health at Imperial College London, raised the possibility in a new interview with CNN.
“There are some viruses that we still do not have vaccines against,” Dr Nabarro said. “We can’t make an absolute assumption that a vaccine will appear at all, or if it does appear, whether it will pass all the tests of efficacy and safety.”
In that case, according to the report, treatments may be developed, but the world could still see yearly coronavirus outbreaks — with deaths — and lockdowns will need to be periodically strengthened and loosened.
“It’s absolutely essential that all societies everywhere get themselves into a position where they are able to defend against the coronavirus as a constant threat, and to be able to go about social life and economic activity with the virus in our midst,” he added.
It’s been a challenge to develop vaccines for common rhinoviruses and adenoviruses, which, similar to the coronavirus, can cause cold symptoms, according to Dr Nabarro.
Only one vaccine prevents two strains of adenovirus, and it’s not commercially available, he told CNN.
There are several viruses that still do not have a vaccine and it is, therefore, premature to assume one will be developed for coronavirus. Dr Nabarro said.
“You have high hopes, and then your hopes are dashed,” Dr Nabarro said. “We’re dealing with biological systems, we’re not dealing with mechanical systems. It really depends so much on how the body reacts.”
Most experts are hopeful that a COVID-19 vaccine will eventually emerge and US President Trump predicted that a vaccine would be ready by the end of 2020.
White House coronavirus task force expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said last month he thought it was within the “realm of possibility” that millions of vaccines could be ready by January. Experts previously estimated that a vaccine could take 18 months, if not longer. But some others say that bringing a vaccine to fruition in any of those time frames is unheard of.
“We’ve never accelerated a vaccine in a year to 18 months,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told CNN. “It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it will be quite a heroic achievement.”
“We need plan A, and a plan B,” he added.
More than 90 COVID-19 vaccines are underway, in various stages, by research teams in companies and universities worldwide, Nature.com reported last week.
Human trials have begun for an Oxford University-developed vaccine that has protected six rhesus macaque monkeys from “heavy quantities” of the pathogen.
Those trials have also begun for a different vaccine, produced by the Massachusetts biotech firm Moderna.
VIRUS TREATMENT HITS US HOSPITALS
It comes as the CEO of Gilead Sciences has said that their drug remdesivir, long touted as a potential treatment for coronavirus, will be available in US hospitals this week.
Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation news program on Sunday morning, Daniel O’Day said that Gilead had donated 1.5 million vials of remdesivir to the US government, enough to treat 150,000 to 200,000 patients.
Priority will be given to patients in ICU beds, and the company has said it will start shipping tens of thousands of treatment courses this week.
A global study by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases last week found that patients given remdesivir recovered faster and may be less likely to die.
Patients who received remdesivir had a 31 per cent faster recovery time than those who received a placebo, the study found.
There was also evidence linking remdesivir treatment with a lowered mortality rate, but researchers said it was not statistically significant.
Head of the US Centre for Infectious diseases Dr Anthony Fauci stopped short of describing the results as a “knockout” but said the study results were “a very important proof of concept.”
US President Donald Trump, who touted the benefits of remdesivir in treating coronavirus long before they were proven called the test results “a very positive event.”
Gilead plans to provide 140,000 treatment courses by the end of May, more than 500,000 by October and more than 1 million by December.