By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Over one hundred economies have now received the Covid-19 vaccines from the Covax facility, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Thursday.
Since making its first international delivery to Ghana on 24 February, more than 38 million doses from manufacturers AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Serum Institute of India (SII) have now been delivered across six continents.
Covax - the global mechanism for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines – expects to deliver about two billion doses of the vaccine in 2021. To achieve this projected goal, the Covax facility aims to further diversify its portfolio, and announce new agreements with vaccine manufacturers in due course.
Great strides in a short period of time
UNICEF noted that despite reduced supply availability in March and April due to vaccine manufacturers scaling and optimising their production processes in the early phase of the rollout, Covax still expects to deliver doses to all participating economies that have requested vaccines in the first half of 2021.
Currently, of the over 100 economies reached, 61 are among the 92 lower-income economies receiving vaccines funded by the Gavi Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
“In under four months since the very first mass vaccination outside a clinical setting anywhere in the world, it is tremendously gratifying that the roll-out of Covax doses has already reached one hundred countries,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Berkley added that even though Covax may be on track to deliver vaccines to all participating economies, the initiative still faces a daunting challenge as it seeks to end the acute stage of the pandemic. He warns that “this is no time for complacency” as “we will only be safe when everybody is safe.” For this, efforts to rapidly accelerate the volume of doses will depend on the continued support of governments and vaccine manufacturers.
The milestone, which comes 42 days after the first Covax doses were shipped, has drawn positive reactions from health and political authorities, as well as donors and partners invested in the fight against the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Appeal for joint efforts, global access
Calling for common efforts in the fight against the pandemic, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stressed that “if we are going to realize this great opportunity, countries, producers and the international system must come together to prioritize vaccine supply through Covax” because “our collective future, literally, depends on it”.
He highlighted that “Covax has given the world the best way to ensure the fastest, most equitable rollout of safe and effective vaccines to all at-risk people in every country on the planet.”
In the same vein, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, while hailing the work of the Covax facility in granting countries access to Covid vaccines, emphasized that “this is no time to celebrate” rather, “it is time to accelerate.”
“With variants emerging all over the world, we need to speed up global rollout,” Fore said. “To do this, we need governments, along with other partners, to take necessary steps to increase supply, including by simplifying barriers to intellectual property rights, eliminating direct and indirect measures that restrict exports of Covid-19 vaccines, and donating excess vaccine doses as quickly as possible.”
Need for funding
UNICEF noted than an additional US$2 billion is required in 2021 to finance up to 1.8 billion donor-funded doses of the Covid-19 vaccines. Currently, Covax is working to secure additional vaccine sourcing in the form of dose-sharing from higher-income countries.
In this regard, it was announced in March that the US government will host the launch event for the 2021 Gavi Covax AMC Invest Opportunity to mobilize further support for accelerated access to vaccines for AMC-supported economies.
Vaccine rollout in Africa
Meanwhile in Africa, though deliveries of vaccines under the Covax programme began in February, many countries still face potential delays due to global supply issues.
Already, the WHO is expressing concerns that countries that received initial batches of the vaccines could soon be running out of doses. Towards the end of March, Ghana – the first recipient of the vaccines - had administered more than 470,000 of the 600,000 initial doses it received. Similarly, Rwanda, which received just under 400,000 doses had administered more than 345,000.
Currently, the Covax initiative has delivered more than 60 million doses to 31 African countries, according to the African Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
The WHO says that so far, less than two percent of the total number of Covid vaccines administered globally have been in Africa. Officials of the Africa CDC project that to effectively combat the Covid-19 virus in the continent, African countries will need to vaccinate at least sixty percent of their populations.