UK Hosts Vaccine Summit Amid Calls for Free Virus Vaccine

by Maria Cheng and Elaine Kurtenbach

Associated Press

Thursday June 4, 2020

The British government is hosting a vaccine summit Thursday, hoping to raise billions of dollars to immunize children in developing countries and to discuss how any potential vaccine against the new coronavirus might be distributed globally — and fairly.

The United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have urged that "a people's vaccine" be developed for COVID-19 that would be freely available to everyone, calling it a "moral imperative."

Thursday's event is a pledging conference for the vaccines alliance GAVI, which says the funds will be used to vaccinate about 300 million children in dozens of countries against diseases like malaria, pneumonia and HPV.

GAVI is also expected to start a new "advance market commitment" mechanism that it hopes will enable developing countries to get any effective COVID-19 vaccine when available.

But experts pointed out that the unprecedented pandemic — where arguably every country will be clamoring for a vaccine — may make such discussions extremely messy.

And the worldwide scramble for masks and ventilators that erupted in the early stages of the pandemic — where countries like France requisitioned the country's entire supply of masks and the U.S. apparently paid off the shippers of loads already on airplanes to obtain ventilators — are not encouraging signs that there will be much global cooperation if and when a coronavirus vaccine is available.

"Rich countries will most likely try to push their way to the front of the queue, leaving poorer countries at the back, and that's a problem," said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"I can't imagine any country saying, 'Africa's need is greater than ours, so they can get the vaccine first and we'll remain vulnerable.'"

The urgency of finding a way to stem outbreaks was evident as India on Thursday reported yet another record number of new infections — 9,304, with 260 deaths, in the previous 24 hours.

India's total tally of COVID-19 fatalities surpassed 6,000 and its number of infections has risen to nearly 217,000, the Health Ministry said. That makes India the seventh worst country hit by the pandemic.

Neighboring Pakistan reported over 4,000 new cases and said 82 more people had died, raising its death toll to 1,770. Its confirmed cases surpassed neighboring China, jumping to 85,264 compared with Beijing's total of 82,967.

The spike in infections comes weeks after Prime Minister Imran Khan overrode warnings from experts and eased a lockdown. Officials have blamed the public for not adhering to social distancing regulations.

As countries such as New Zealand and Australia mark progress in containing the pandemic and work on plans to resume some international air travel, others are having to step up precautions.

North Macedonia reintroduced stringent restrictions on movement in its capital, Skopje and three other areas. On Thursday the Health Ministry announced 120 new confirmed cases — the highest increase since the outbreak began — and two deaths.

In the U.S., where a wave of protests is adding to concerns over possible additional outbreaks, new cases have been surging just weeks after many businesses were allowed to reopen.

Arizona officials reported nearly 1,000 new cases Wednesday amid a rise in hospitalizations, a little over two weeks after Gov. Doug Ducey ended his stay-at-home order. The state has now tallied more than 22,000 cases and 981 deaths.

Utah's state epidemiologist issued a renewed plea Wednesday for people to maintain social distancing and exercise caution after state figures showed an average of about 200 new cases a day last week, the highest weekly average by far since the pandemic began.

South Carolina has logged its three highest daily case counts in the past week. The two highest death counts have occurred in the last week — 20 deaths on May 27 and 17 on Wednesday.

As of Thursday, more than 6.5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus and more than 386,000 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The actual number of infections is thought to be much higher, due to limits on testing and many asymptomatic cases.

Both in the U.S. and around the world, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who have been the hardest hit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message.

A health crisis in conditions where social distancing is "an impossible luxury" and health care, water and sanitation are often hard to find is made worse by their economic plight and by pandemic-related restrictions on movement, he said.

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Kurtenbach contributed to this report from Bangkok. Associated Press reporters around the world also contributed.

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