Apr 24th 2020Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hubSINCE THE first cases of covid-19 emerged in China in late 2019, the pace of medical innovation has been breathtaking. The efforts of the world’s scientists are already starting to bear fruit. Within less than four months, several trials for promising new vaccines and treatments have begun. These may offer a way out of the covid-19 crisis.Yet with the headlong global rush to develop new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines one question has not been answered: how can these essential innovations be delivered globally, and fairly, where they are most needed? An initiative led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), announced on April 24th, seeks to provide an answer.There is urgency to this question because the global impact of covid-19, both on people’s health and on their livelihoods, means that a global solution would be superior to lots of individual national ones, in which each country tries to find a vaccine or a cure for its own citizens in isolation, and each country tries to hold on to vital but scarce supplies. The virus spreads across borders, so is best controlled globally. A common effort will be less costly, in lives as well as money, than the pursuit of national interests alone.Both America and the European Union have already put curbs on exports of personal protective equipment. There are fears that this will extend to vaccines. During the 2009 swine-flu pandemic, the export of vaccines abroad became a sensitive political issue in America. Because vaccines are the world’s long-term exit strategy to the crisis, a global approach is especially valuable.For several months, behind the scenes, health officials, NGOs, funders and researchers around the world have been seeking a solution. Since February it has been plain that there was an urgent need for a plan to fund, develop and distribute vaccines globally. Even if successful means of immunisation can be found, the world has never produced a vaccine at the envisaged speed (perhaps in the first half of 2021) or scale—eventually and ideally, worldwide.And even when vaccines are being mass-produced, supplies will be limited. A strategy for using them needs to be worked out in advance. This might be, for example, to give priority to health workers, countries with active outbreaks, or hot-spots of infection. There are many possible permutations of distribution. Ideally, each needs to be considered and compared—and quickly.On April 24th a group of self-described “global health actors” joined the WHO to launch a partnership to accelerate the development of and global access to health technologies, including vaccines, to fight covid-19 around the world. Those involved the Wellcome Trust, as well as the World Bank and governments, including those of France, Norway and South Africa. America’s is a notable absentee.The ACT Accelerator, as it is called, will speed and scale up whatever tools are needed to end the pandemic. Many of its partners, such as the Gates Foundation and GAVI, a vaccine-finance group, and the Global Fund, which finances the battle against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, have decades of experience in fighting global health crises, scaling solutions and delivering them. Even without the firepower of the American government, this is a powerful group.Although the accelerator is not short of ambition, it is short of cash. It will need $8bn of seed funding, at once. Indeed, it was identified as necessary two months ago, says Alex Harris, head of global policy at the Wellcome Trust. (The figure is based on an assessment by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent monitoring and accountability body.) Governments, UN agencies and others will, it is hoped, stump up the money at a pledging conference on May 4th. Saudi Arabia’s minister of finance has reportedly said that $2bn has been promised already. Of the $8bn, $3bn will be for R&D for vaccines and $2.25bn for drugs.Many details will need to be worked out, and the work ahead is likely to be difficult. Heading the vaccine programme will be Sir Andrew Witty, the president of UnitedHealth Group, an American health-care giant (he is temporarily suspending that role). Sir Andrew, who used to run GlaxoSmithKline, a vaccine-maker, brings a wealth of business experience.He will need to form a plan to help identify the best vaccine candidates, fund their development and agree on how to share them. Such a co-operative approach also means that no single country will lose out by having a vaccine fail during development, or by not being able to get hold of vaccines made elsewhere. Drugs and protective equipment will need the same sort of planning, too. It is only a start. But it is a sign that the grown-ups are coming to the table.■Dig deeper:For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hubReuse this contentThe Trust Project