Vaccine group Gavi co-leads COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine initiative, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, alongside key delivery partner UNICEF, are raising funds to support lower-income countries with urgent COVID-19 vaccination needs.
The chair of the board of vaccine group Gavi, José Manuel Barroso, who is also the former Portuguese prime minister, and president of the European Commission told Arab News in an exclusive interview, “I indeed had the pleasure of attending virtual meetings with key officials at the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia and the leadership of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to discuss COVAX’s ongoing fundraising effort.” He continued, “Decades before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia invested in its healthcare systems and focused on increasing the number of healthcare workers. This investment and preparation meant that when the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia was better equipped than most countries to handle the virus.”
Barroso also stated that, “Saudi Arabia has played a critical role in the global COVID-19 response. In November 2020, as the chair of the G20 Summit in Riyadh, the country succeeded in mobilizing donors to commit sizable funding to respond internationally to the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to over $825 million including vaccines, medical supplies and medical equipment for 33 countries. This money has helped protect millions of lives, but the pandemic will continue to evolve and we must be prepared.”
The Gavi chairperson also shared that every four months a new COVID variant happens to emerge and that it is crucial to raise funds to secure doses of the vaccines.
He said, “We have learned the importance of securing funding ahead of time, especially should variant-adapted vaccines be required or if additional annual booster shots are needed. To mitigate against this risk, COVAX is seeking to secure contingent funding of $2.7 billion so that we are ready to place orders for additional vaccines as soon as they are needed.”
Barroso also stated that Saudi Arabia, alongside the other GCC states, also have the power to extend stronger support to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states. Saudi Arabia managed to raise a $150 million COVAX fund , $5.3 million pledged by KSrelief, and $2.3 million from the Gamers Without Borders initiative of Saudi Esports.
“This support, pooled together with funding from other donor countries has enabled COVAX to deliver over 1.4 billion doses worldwide, protecting millions of lives across 144 countries, including 83 lower-income countries and territories. Efforts like this are helping to close the global vaccine equity gap, and there has been an increase in global vaccine coverage in recent months," he added.
Speaking about the kingdom’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barroso said, “Decades before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia invested in its healthcare systems and focused on increasing the number of healthcare workers. This investment and preparation meant that when the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia was better equipped than most countries to handle the virus. This is a great lesson for the world and demonstrates the importance of investing in our health systems and preparing for future pandemics and disease outbreaks. With over 62 million vaccine doses administered, and strong community awareness of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia’s response to the pandemic should be applauded.”