WHO requests cooperation for COVAX; Outlines vaccine distribution system

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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COVID-19 Vaccine
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The World Health Organization (WHO) urged more wealthy countries to join its vaccine agreement called COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility or COVAX. 

The initiative which aims to to boost the development and manufacture of a coronavirus vaccine and make it available to everyone has so far raised just $3 billion in investments, while the need is at least $38 billion.

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The goal of this project, known as the COVAX Facility, is to pool resources to promote the development of the most promising candidates for coronavirus vaccines and to ensure that they are equally available to all participating countries. This is the alternative to the go-it-alone strategy taken by some rich countries.

64 higher-income countries have so far signed up, WHO officials said, but added that in the coming days, 38 more are expected to do so. Notably missing are Russia, the United States and China.

China has not made any statement regarding the same while the US said this month that it will not participate, in part because the administration doesn’t want to partner with the WHO, and would instead take a go-it-alone approach. Russia has already developed and approved its vaccine named ‘Sputnik-V.’

If successful, the COVAX Facility will ensure that poorer nations are not denied the coronavirus vaccine once it is finally ready. As the WHO has consistently stressed, the priority should be to ensure that the vaccine is accessible in all countries to some people, the most vulnerable first, rather than to all people in some countries.

However, despite the interest shown by a large number of countries, the actual investments made by them towards the initiative has been less than satisfactory. WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus requested more countries to donate, saying it was not a charity, but in every nation’s best interest.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General, WHO

“So far, $3 billion has been invested. This has resulted in a very successful start-up phase, but it is only a tenth of the remaining $35 billion needed for scale-up and impact. $15 billion is needed immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines. We are a critical point and we need a significant increase in countries’ political and financial commitment. This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Vaccine Distribution

A proposed allocation system, published yesterday addresses a question crucial to every nation: how do you distribute the vaccine once a safe and effective one is developed?

The WHO’s response is a two-phase strategy that will be analyzed and examined closely.
Doses will be distributed proportionally in the first step, meaning that each participating country will receive doses for its population share: 3 percent to start, then up to 20 percent.

The allocation method will change if supply is still low after the 20 percent threshold is reached. In Phase 2, COVAX will consider the risk level of each country, sending more doses to the highest-risk countries.

The structure makes it clear that each participating nation will determine who to vaccinate first, but it is focused on the concept that doses should be used first to vaccinate medical workers and then other high-risk groups for 3 percent of the population in a country.

“Providing each country with enough doses to start protecting the health system and those at higher risk of dying is the best approach to maximize the impact of the small quantities of vaccines,” said Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão, the WHO’s assistant director general for access to medicines and health products.

But the proposed framework has been met with criticism from few experts across the world as they claim that each country has different requirements and resources and it doesn’t make sense to have a uniform system for distribution.

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