Summit secures additional $2.4 billion for COVID shots for poor countries

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FILE PHOTO: AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines from the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme are unloaded from a cargo plane at Bole International Airport in Ethiopia

By Stephanie Nebehay and John Miller

GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) -Countries and private donors pledged nearly $2.4 billion on Wednesday to the COVAX vaccine-sharing plan, expanding efforts to make COVID-19 shots more available to people in poorer nations.

The announcements, ranging from $2,500 from island nation Mauritius to millions of dollars and doses from wealthier countries, came during a video summit hosted by Japan and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which leads the COVAX facility alongside the World Health Organization.

The funds will allow COVAX to secure 1.8 billion fully subsidised doses for delivery to lower-income countries in 2021 and early 2022, enough to protect 30% of adults in those nations, GAVI said in a statement.

"We have taken a big step towards 'one world protected'," said Jose Manuel Barroso, GAVI chairman. The fresh funds brought total COVAX financing to $9.6 billion, he added.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose government pledged an additional $800 million, called the result "an extremely significant and meaningful step" toward equitable vaccine access.

Japan will also donate about 30 million doses of vaccines produced within the country through COVAX, he said.

The COVAX mechanism has distributed 77 million doses to 127 countries since February but has been stymied by India restricting exports of vaccines amid a major outbreak there.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who pledged 15 million doses and 50 million euros ($61 million), said: "Only by leading by example we will be effective in preaching solidarity."

Australia said it was giving a further A$50 million ($39 million) to COVAX while Canada, Sweden, France and Switzerland were among other countries to announce new donations.

Philanthropist Bill Gates said: "High-income countries have reserved more vaccines than they need. So without compromising their own domestic vaccination efforts, these countries can be part of the effort to accelerate global vaccine access by sharing the excess doses.

"I encourage these nations to be bold and commit as soon as possible to sharing over 1 billion doses in 2021 mostly through GAVI's COVAX advance market commitment," Gates said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation later announced a $50 million commitment to COVAX.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris referenced the United States' $2 billion contribution this year and $2 billion earmarked for next year, but made no fresh announcements.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated concerns that Western nations have vaccinated high percentages of their people, while health workers in places like Africa remain unprotected.

"Of the 1.8 billion vaccines administered globally just 0.4% have been administered in low-income countries," he said. "This is ethically, epidemiologically and economically unacceptable."

($1 = 0.8205 euros)

($1 = 1.2898 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and John Miller in Zurich; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Mark Heinrich, David Holmes and Edwina Gibbs)

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