When the coronavirus pandemic erupted around the world last April, international organizations came together to help ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people would have access to the vaccine amid the race to get the drug. The initiative known as COVAX was created by the World Health Organization, the GAVI Vaccination Alliance, and a coalition of epidemic innovations called CEPI.
It is assumed that the program reaches agreements to buy vaccines in bulk from pharmaceutical companies and that it can also receive doses donated by rich countries. Thus, the poorest can have them for free through COVAX, and the rich can acquire them through it to diversify their supply.
But the initiative has been hit by shortages of cash and supplies, as well as logistical hurdles. And all this while a handful of rich countries advanced in their vaccination campaigns.
The first vaccines purchased by COVAX arrived in Ghana on Wednesday.
Here’s a look at the project so far:
WHY IS IT NECESSARY?
Not all countries can afford their own COVID-19 vaccine, and in past pandemics, including the 2009 swine flu, rich countries hoarded them until the outbreak ended. During the HIV crisis, crucial life-saving treatments came to Africa years after their introduction to the West.
Beyond the moral duty to share vaccines in a generalized way, scientists have warned that allowing the coronavirus to spread freely in any population is a global risk because it could cause new and dangerous variants that could affect even those who have passed the virus or are vaccinated.
WHAT IS COVAX LOOKING TO DO?
The initial goal of the program was to bring vaccines to poor countries almost at the same time as they were administered to rich ones. Although that goal has not been reached, he hopes to deliver around 2 billion doses to more than 90 nations before the end of the year.
COVAX will only provide enough vaccines to immunize between 20 and 30% of the population in recipient countries, a percentage that will keep them vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks. Experts estimate that to prevent future epidemics, at least 70% of the population must be vaccinated.
Kate Elder of Doctors Without Borders called the first shipment of COVAX vaccines to Ghana a “very small and late start” of global immunization. The NGO suggested delaying the delivery of doses to rich countries “while the world works to catch up on protecting the most at-risk people living in developing nations.”
WHY HAVE YOU NOT ADVANCED FASTER?
There are not enough vaccines. The global supply of COVID-19 vaccines is extremely limited – drug companies are trying to produce more – and experts predict that there will not be enough doses to immunize the world’s population until 2023 or 2024. While middle and high income countries have reserved more than 5 billion doses, COVAX has closed deals to obtain more than 1 billion, but not all of them are legally binding.
The initiative has received billions of dollars in funding, but WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out this week that the money is almost meaningless if there are no vaccines to buy. In addition, he called on rich nations not to sign more agreements for additional vaccines as they could jeopardize the pacts that COVAX already has.
COVAX also cannot distribute vaccines until they are approved by WHO for emergency use. Only two have received the green light so far, the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the one from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Most of the vaccines the initiative has are from AstraZeneca, which was not licensed until last week.
Unlike previous outbreaks, when poor countries waited for aid agencies to deliver vaccines, these delays have led many of them to close their own private deals outside of COVAX.
WHAT ARE WEALTHY COUNTRIES DOING TO HELP?
Although the Group of Seven, which brings together the world’s major economic powers, promised to guarantee equitable access to vaccines and promised $ 7.5 billion for COVAX, there have been very few details from countries like Britain, Germany and France about when the remaining doses will be donated.
While French President Emmanuel Macron promised to donate 5% of vaccines to COVAX, Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly noted that it was “difficult to say with any kind of certainty” when or how much the country will be able to contribute. .
Several wealthy countries have been criticized for buying large quantities of vaccines – Britain, for example, has agreements that would allow its entire population to be immunized more than five times. Nations have defended themselves by claiming they had to close deals before knowing which ones would be effective, and often promised to give up the surplus. But the lack of detail now is concerning, and some experts say they are unlikely to do so until they know how long the immunity they provide lasts, or if they work against the new variants.
Other wealthy nations such as Canada, New Zealand and Singapore have requested to receive their vaccines through the initiative despite having their own supplies. The WHO said it will comply with these requests as part of COVAX’s goal was to allow such countries to purchase a wider range of vaccines.