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Pharmaceuticals

Japan and UK eye fall launch for $20bn global vaccine alliance

Partners aim to counter financial power of US and China to secure deals

Japan and the U.K. hope to gain a financial advantage by forming a procurement alliance for a coronavirus vaccine. (Getty Images)

TOKYO -- Japan, the U.K. and more than 70 other countries plan to form an alliance this fall to jointly procure 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by 2021, looking to gain financial leverage in talks with pharmaceutical companies. 

The partnership, initially pitched around June by Japan, the U.K., Germany, France and the European Union, aims to pool up to $20 billion. The alliance, named Covax, will pay vaccine makers in advance and procure doses for member countries. Supplies for individual nations will be capped at 20% of the population.

The U.S. and China each have deep enough pockets to negotiate vaccine deals independently, putting others at a disadvantage. Japan intends to use the partnership to level the playing field in talks with vaccine developers, especially when dealing with a Chinese or American manufacturer.

About 75 nations have expressed interest, including Canada, South Korea and Argentina. Membership requires an upfront investment, and the deadline for joining the group is set for the end of August. But the EU has been reluctant, with Germany and France noncommittal at this time, a source close to the Japanese government said, .

Gavi, a public-private organization that supports global immunization efforts, will run Covax. Participating nations and groups are expected to contribute over $20 billion combined toward the cause.

The goal is to start supplying vaccines in the first half of 2021. Funds donated to Gavi also will be used to procure doses for distribution in developing countries.

China and the U.S. are unlikely to join the effort, a Japanese government insider said. The U.S., which has the most cases of COVID-19, is competing with Europe to secure vaccine supplies from European makers. Beijing plans to produce the vaccines at home for local consumption.

Tokyo is also busy discussing separate vaccine deals with overseas suppliers. Japan has reached a basic agreement with Pfizer to procure 120 million doses by June 2021, enough to inoculate 60 million people. Japan and AstraZeneca reached another preliminary deal announced Friday to supply 120 million doses.

Securing a stockpile of vaccines is considered crucial for the Tokyo Olympics, now postponed to next summer. Without vaccinations on a global scale, the event will face serious complications.

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