COVAX Aims to Distribute 237-million Vaccine Doses By May
COVAX press conference: (from left): President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, UNICEF’s Henrietta Fore, Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong, GAVI’s Olly Cann; CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett; German Parliamentary State Secretary, Maria Flaschbarth; Gavi CEO Seth Berkley; UNICEF’s Gian Gandh; Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist; Kate O’Brien, WHO Vaccines & Biologicals; WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The global vaccine platform, COVAX, aims to distribute 237 million doses of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine to 142 countries by the end of May 2021, its managing partners told the media on Tuesday.

Eleven million doses will be delivered this week alone, with Angola, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria getting their vaccines on Tuesday, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Tedros described COVAX as an unprecedented partnership that will not only change the course of the pandemic but will change the way the world responds to future health emergencies,” at a media briefing hosted by the WHO, the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

“We very much appreciate the support of Germany and other G7 countries who have supported COVAX with the resources it needs,” said Tedros. 

“The distribution of vaccines has not been as equitable as we would have liked, but it has been certainly more equitable than it could have been and we still have many challenges to overcome, including the local production barriers and delays to intellectual property,” he added.

COVAX, led by the WHO, GAVI and CEPI with UNICEF as the implementing partner, hopes to deliver 2 billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. 

Some 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID shot will also be delivered in the first quarter of 2021, according to the COVAX allocations.

Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance.

GAVI CEO  Seth Berkley said that it might be possible to purchase “1,8 billion doses of vaccine in 2021 for the low and lower middle income AMC countries in 2021” – 500 million more doses than anticipated last year. 

“We are also excited by the progress made by the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine which just received US FDA emergency use authorisation and has agreed to provide us with a half a million doses,” said Berkely. 

Meanwhile, COVAX aimed to turn a recent memorandum of understanding with as-yet-unlicensed Novavax into a “firm advance-purchase agreement for 1.1 billion doses in the current weeks,” Berkley told the media briefing.

He also applauded the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) for doubling COVAX’s funding recently.

UNICEF – COVAX Making Good on Promises

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said COVAX was beginning to make good on its promise to ensure that there was equitable access to vaccines. 

“Vaccine doses have arrived in West Africa and Asia, with many more countries to follow in the coming days and weeks,” said Fore, whose organization is overseeing the logistics.

“We’ve now seen Africa’s first vaccinations with COVAX doses in Ghana and Ivory Coast, in truly moving ceremonies in both countries yesterday. 

“But what took place on Monday is more than a feel-good story that speaks to our collective best natures. It is a necessary first step that speaks to our collective interests. 

“The only way out of this pandemic is to ensure that vaccination is available across the globe and that people from less wealthy countries are not left behind in the race to be protected,” said Fore.

She revealed that at least 20 countries could expect to receive hundreds of thousands of doses this week.

“Only today, we have five shipments including to Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Nigeria where we are delivering COVID-19 vaccines with consolidated syringes and routine vaccinations, ensuring that children are also protected among many other countries,” Fore said.

Nigeria alone received nearly four million doses. 

Fore said that the arrival of the vaccines represented hope particularly for children as “their access to education, health and protection services has been severely disrupted by the pandemic”.

Multilateralism key to fighting Covid-19
Ghaanian President Nana Akufo-Addo gets vaccinated against COVID-19 on Monday, 1 March, with the first COVAX vaccine to be distributed in the world.

Also addressing the briefing, Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo, who was vaccinated on Monday, said that Africa needed to develop the capacity to produce vaccines “to facilitate easy and affordable access”.

 Maria Flaschbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary to the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, described COVAX as an indication of the strength of multilateralism and working together to achieve a common goal.

“What we are witnessing here is the strength of multilateralism. We have seen what can be achieved when all actors work together. The public sector, scientific community, economic actors as well as civil society. We will defeat COVID-19 everywhere or nowhere. No one is safe until everyone is safe. The current mutations show this simple fact very clearly,” Flaschbarth said.

Flaschbarth further indicated that the current financing gap of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which includes COVAX, was over US$22 billion for 2021 alone. 

“To close this gap, it will be necessary to widen the donor base by further sustainable contribution of other public donors as well as the private sector,” she said. “Therefore, Germany very much welcomes the leadership of the current G7 and G20 presidencies putting equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics on the international agenda. This will be very helpful to mobilise more funding for the global medical answer to the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) director John Nkengasong also said COVAX was beginning to show the power of global cooperation and the victory of “multilateralism versus protectionism”.

Nkengasong added that the African Union Commission will host a meeting on 12 April “to develop a roadmap and a framework that will enable Africa to begin to address with specifics, the key milestones to begin to manufacture vaccines on the continent”.

“All of this speaks to the need for our own ability to stand up and say that we as a people of 1,2 billion people will continue to invest in our health security and economic security that increasingly is being threatened by COVID-19,” Nkengasong said.

Vaccines to Address Virus Variants

CEPI chief executive officer Richard Hatchett said while the world was making progress in curbing COVID-19 through COVAX, there was a need for the more sophisticated vaccines to deal with emerging variants.

“In parallel to the global rollout of vaccines, we must now double our R&D efforts so that we have the tools we need for the emerging type of variant of Covid-19 as rapidly as possible,” Hatchett said.

“CEPI will continue to invest in R&D for vaccines that can be made available to COVAX to support the adaptation of existing vaccines and to initiate the development of new vaccines specifically targeted at the new variants” Hatchett said. 


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