World leaders to launch WHO Covid-19 plan but US won’t take part

More than 100 potential Covid-19 vaccines are being developed, including 6 being clinically trialled. (AFP pic)

GENEVA: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will help launch a global initiative on Friday to accelerate work to fight Covid-19, the World Health Organization said, but the United States said it will not take part.

The WHO said late on Thursday it would announce a “landmark collaboration” on Friday to speed up the development of safe, effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat Covid-19.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a UN briefing on Friday that Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen would take part in the 1pm announcement, led by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were also to take part, diplomatic sources told Reuters.

“Today is a kind of political commitment from all these partners to make sure that when we have all these new tools no one is left behind, that those who can afford vaccines or therapeutics can buy them and (put) them at the disposal of the population,” Chaib said.

“It is very important to make sure that you have equitable access to quality, efficient, new tools for Covid-19,” she said.

A spokesman for the US mission in Geneva told Reuters the United States would not take part.

“There will be no US official participation”, he said in an email reply to a query. “We look forward to learning more about this initiative in support of international cooperation to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 as soon as possible.”

US President Donald Trump has lambasted the WHO as being slow to react to the outbreak and being “China-centric” and announced a suspension of funding.

Asked to confirm whether the United States was going to be participating at the meeting, a WHO source said: “No, but almost everyone else is.”

Vaccine trials

More than 2.7 million people have been infected with the disease, which has claimed nearly 190,000 lives since emerging in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, according to a Reuters tally.

More than 100 potential Covid-19 vaccines are being developed, including six already in clinical trials, said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, a public-private partnership that leads immunisation campaigns in poor countries.

“We need to ensure that there are enough vaccines for everyone, we are going to need global leadership to identify and prioritise vaccine candidates,” he told a separate Geneva news briefing before taking part in the formal WHO announcement.

Global manufacturing capacity must be ramped up ahead of choosing “a winner” vaccine, Berkley said, noting that GAVI and the World Bank were looking at the issue.

“We can’t have a repeat of what happened in 2009, the H1N1 vaccine, when there was not enough supply for developing countries or when supply did come it came much later,” he said.

Among other important questions were how well a vaccine would work in people most at risk from Covid-19, Berkley said.

“How well do they work in the elderly, are they single or multiple doses, etc?” he said, noting that older people had weaker immune systems.