By Seth Berkley
COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access(COVAX) is a global collaboration to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. It is co-led by GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, and others. Its global initiative is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.
COVAX is undertaking the largest, most complex roll out of vaccines in history, delivering them faster, to more countries and in greater volumes than has ever been managed before. As of today, there have been over 77 million doses shipped through COVAX to 127 economies globally, including 75 countries eligible for support through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC). This is a significant achievement, but there are enormous inequities, and we have much work ahead of us if we are to fulfil our goal of ending the acute phase of the pandemic everywhere. We also urgently need all countries that have surplus doses to share them so we can ensure those that are most at risk everywhere can be protected.
Nobody is safe until everyone is safe because infectious diseases do not respect borders. The International Chamber of Commerce published a study in January 2021 showed that if advanced economies continue to prioritise vaccination of their susceptible populations without ensuring equitable vaccination for developing economies, the total cost to the world varies between US$ 1.5–9.2 trillion. Therefore, global equitable access to vaccines is the only way to lessen the public health and economic impact of the pandemic on individuals, communities, and nations.
COVAX is already showing that it is the right mechanism to make equitable access to vaccines possible, but obviously we need much more to meet the urgency of the pandemic. This is why we are calling on countries with much vaccine supplies to share doses and trade early places in production queues with COVAX, on governments to abandon all export restrictions on raw materials at a time when we need international cooperation to end the pandemic and a fully financed AMC requiring at least an additional US$1.6 billion by June in order to lock in supplies for 2021 and early 2022.
Gavi welcomes news that Sinopharm has recently been granted WHO Emergency Use Listing, as this means the world has yet another safe and effective tool in the fight against this pandemic. Gavi is open to procuring any vaccine so long as it has achieved necessary approvals and we very much hope that Sinopharm can play a front-line role in COVAX’s global push to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
During the 73rd Session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly (WHA) last May, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced, “COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment in China, when available, will be made a global public good.” China has joined COVAX and committed to provide 10 million doses of vaccines to developing nations. It is an important step towards the objective and we welcome China’s commitment.
Given China’s active leadership throughout the pandemic, alongside extensive ongoing vaccine research efforts, we believe there is much room for both Chinese public and private actors to support equitable access to vaccines by participating in both the COVAX Facility and the Gavi COVAX AMC. Their support would go a long way towards ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. To prepare for the rising threat of new variants, we also encourage potential vaccine developers to submit promising candidates for consideration for COVAX research and development.
The global access to vaccines is not happening fast enough, and it’s in everyone’s interest that we get there sooner. Moreover, any delay will also prolong the economic misery, by ensuring that efforts to resume commerce, trade and travel continue to stall. We urgently need countries with the largest vaccine supplies to share doses and trade early places in production queues with COVAX, so we can meet COVAX’s immediate supply needs. Manufacturers and governments should facilitate the fulfilment of deals so COVAX can deliver on its goal of at least 2 billion doses in 2021.
(The author is the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance)