GENEVA/ZURICH, June 2 (Reuters) - Dozens of countries on Wednesday pledged nearly $2.4 billion to the COVAX vaccine-sharing plan to widen availability of COVID-19 shots to people in poorer nations who have so far come up short.
The announcements, ranging from $2,500 from island nation Mauritius to millions of dollars and doses from larger, wealthier countries, came during a video summit hosted by Japan and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which leads the COVAX facility alongside the World Health Organization.
"We have taken a big step towards 'one world protected'," said Jose Manuel Barroso, GAVI vaccine alliance chairman. The fresh funds brought total COVAX financing to $9.6 billion, he added.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose government pledged $800 million, called the result "an extremely significant and meaningful step" toward equitable vaccine access.
The COVAX mechanism, which has distributed 77 million doses to 127 countries, aims to accelerate access to 1.8 billion vaccine doses, covering nearly 30% of poorer nations' populations.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the pledge drive as putting COVAX "on a war-footing to finance the fight."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country was giving a further $50 million to COVAX, upping his nation's total donation to $130 million.
Canada, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg were among other countries to announce new donations, while Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez, who pledged 15 million doses and 50 million euros ($61 million), said: "Only by leading by example we will be effective in preaching solidarity."
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris referenced the United States' $2 billion contribution this year and $2 billion earmarked for next year, but made no specific announcements on fresh U.S. funding.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated long-running concerns that Western nations have vaccinated high percentages of their people, while health workers in places like Africa remain unprotected.
"Of the 1.8 billion vaccines administered globally just 0.4% have been administered in low-income countries," he said. "This is ethically, epidemiologically and economically unacceptable." ($1 = 0.8205 euros)
(Reporting by stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, John Miller in Zurich; additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London; editing by Mark Heinrich)