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UN Chief Says $35 Billion Needed for WHO Coronavirus Program

FILE - In this handout photo released by the United Nations, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres holds a virtual press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York City, April 3, 2020.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Thursday called for $35 billion in additional funding for the World Health Organization's Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator program, designed to develop and equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines and treatments worldwide.

The funding includes $15 billion in the next three months.

Guterres spoke Thursday at a virtual inaugural meeting of the ACT Facilitation Council, an international collaboration of leaders looking to use the program as a mechanism to speed the development of COVID vaccines and treatments.

In his remarks, the U.N. chief told the group the nearly $3 billion that has been contributed so far is “seed funding" and is less than 10% of what WHO wants for the program.

"We now need $35 billion more to go from startup to scale up and impact," he said.

In his remarks, WHO General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said bilateral vaccine deals and what he calls “vaccine nationalism”— the hoarding of treatments and vaccines by individual nations — could “compromise equitable access and hold up progress for all countries.”

Financial support for the ACT program has lagged behind its goals, as nations or governments, including the European Union, Britain, Japan and the United States, reach bilateral deals for vaccines.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged the commissions backing. In August, the commission pledged $474 million to WHO’s cooperative vaccine access program COVAX, which is part of the ACT program.

Tedros renewed calls for scaling up COVID-19 clinical trials. AstraZeneca this week suspended late-stage trials on its potential vaccine after an illness in a participant in Britain.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said Thursday if safety reviewers allow a restart, the company should still know by year's end if its vaccine works.