Big shot: record-breaking pledge to immunise 300 million children

World leaders, governments, foundations and the private sector teamed up to pledge $7.5bn to the Gavi Alliance, a global health partnership

It has been a good week for the Geneva-based vaccine alliance, Gavi. It has been an even better week for 300 million of the world’s most vulnerable children.

World leaders, governments, foundations and the private sector teamed up to pledge a whopping $7.5bn to the Gavi Alliance, a global health partnership focused on increasing access to vaccines.

The latest round of pledges will save up to six million premature deaths and poor countries will reap between $80bn to $100bn in economic benefits, according to the alliance.

The UK, a long-time funder of the alliance, led bilateral donations by gifting $1.57bn to Gavi. Norway and the US were the next biggest government funders, pledging $969m and $800m, respectively.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of Gavi’s top three donors, was another major benefactor at the two-day pledging conference in Berlin. The foundation committed $1.55bn to the alliance’s next five-year cycle of operations. Together, all the pledges will help Gavi immunise a further 300 million children in developing countries between 2016 and 2020.

“Today is a great day for children in the world’s poorest countries,” said Bill Gates, cofounder of the Gates Foundation. “We believe in the next 15 years, poor people’s lives will improve faster than any other period in history and that access to vaccines provided by Gavi are critical to making that happen.”

The conference, hosted by Germany on Monday and Tuesday, saw new donors enter the fray, including some from the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman made pledges to Gavi for the first time. The GCC states gifted $25m, $10m and $3m, respectively. The Saudi-based Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation also established a new partnership. The Foundation gifted $1m through direct funding for vaccine purchases in Timor Leste, Kiribati, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Guyana.

The new pledges from Gulf states are a welcome first cash injection for the region to start tackling an issue that particularly affects their children. Since Gavi’s inception in 2000, some 50 per cent of Gavi’s budget has been spent on assistance to Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states, while OIC members donated just 0.3 per cent to the alliance’s pot.

The private sector, too, stepped up its support to the Gavi Alliance. Big pharmaceutical companies ensured that countries graduating from Gavi support – as the countries’ per capita incomes rise – could continue to access affordable vaccines. These included pneumonia, diarrhoea and cervical cancer vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline, and the pentavalent vaccine from Janssen. Pfizer agreed to lower the cost of its pneumococcal vaccine by $0.20 a dose, to $3.10 until 2025.

Innovative financing models also got a boost, as the Gates Foundation pledged to support the Gavi Matching Fund for another five years, which doubles private sector contributions. More than $250m of the $7.5bn pledged will top up Gavi’s International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), which uses donors’ funds to raise money and issue vaccine bonds.

The total cost of funding the vaccine programmes between 2016-2020 is $9.5bn. The $7.5bn commitments add to the $2bn already raised, plus almost $1.2bn from the IFFIm facility.

With new funding comes new opportunities. The alliance estimates its support helped immunise 243 million children in the period 2011-2015 and prevented some 3.9 million needless deaths.

Gavi’s heft in the vaccines market means that the cost of three vital vaccines – pentavalent, pneumococcal and rotavirus – has dropped by 37 per cent since 2010. As the cost of saving lives goes down, more money can make more of a difference.

To read our exclusive interview with Gavi’s CEO, Dr Seth Berkley, click here.