Shock Withdrawal of Gavi CEO-Designate as Board Ponders COVAX Funds Surplus
Gavi was one of the key pillars of the global COVID-19 vaccine platform, COVAX.

Six weeks before its new CEO was due to assume office, global vaccine alliance Gavi has announced that Dr Muhammad Pate is no longer available for the position.

The appointment of Pate, a former Nigerian health minister, was announced in February following a meeting of the Gavi board. He was to replace current CEO Dr Seth Berkley, who has led the alliance for the past 12 years and is stepping down in August.

However, in a short statement on Monday, Gavi said that its board had appointed Chief Operating Officer David Marlow as interim CEO, following communication from Pate that he will not be able to join Gavi. 

“Dr Pate informed the Gavi Board Chair and Vice Chair that he has taken an incredibly difficult decision to accept a request to return and contribute to his home country, Nigeria. Gavi fully respects the decision and wishes Dr Pate the very best for the future,” said Gavi.

Gavi was unable to tell Health Policy Watch what position Pate would be assuming in Nigeria. However, the Harvard-based Pate has been active in promoting primary healthcare and was well-respected as the country’s health minister between 2011 and 2013.

The announcement came as the Gavi board was meeting this week in Geneva, amidst a Reuters report that a $2.6 billion surplus remains to be spent in COVAX, the WHO co-sponsored COVID-19 vaccine platform that Gavi co-operdinates alongside the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

While around a quarter of the funds is likely to go towards COVID-19 vaccination programmes, big decisions need to be made about whether some of the money should be poured into COVID vaccine distribution, pandemic preparedness, and bolstering vaccine production capacity in Africa.

“These are COVAX [Advanced Market Commitment] funds which have been donated to Gavi so the decision on how to spend them is ultimately for the Gavi Board and donors to make,” a CEPI spokesperson told Health Policy Watch.

The Gavi COVAX AMC is the innovative financing instrument that supported the participation of 92 low- and middle-income economies in the COVAX Facility.

“Our understanding is that no decision has been made to repurpose the COVAX AMC funds as yet,” added the CEPI spokesperson.

Even though the WHO has declared that COVID-19 no longer is a public health emergency of international concern, thereby acknowledging that the worst and most deadly phase of the pandemic is over, it is important to recognize that we will all be living with COVID-19 and its effects for a long time to come so it is prudent to remain prepared to respond quickly should the COVID-19 situation deteriorate.

“One of the key learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic is that predictable and sustainable end-to-end financing and flexible surge financing – including for R&D and manufacturing – that is readily available in the event of a new outbreak with pandemic potential are key to enabling equitable access to vaccines and other medical countermeasures.

“CEPI is advocating for such financing mechanisms to be established through our engagement with the Pandemic Accord process and the G20 and G7, and we would welcome leftover COVAX funds contributing towards them if the Gavi Board and donors chose to pursue that option.”

Gavi is the biggest vaccine procurement group in the world and is currently responsible for vaccinating almost half the world’s children.  It had not responded to queries about the COVAX surplus funds at the time of publication.

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