The equitable coronavirus vaccine delivery initiative COVAX that has delivered its first doses to West Africa and Latin America in the past few days, is a credit to international solidarity, but potential obstacles must be overcome if a fully global rollout is to be achieved, UN health agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.
Speaking after Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Colombia received their first round of AstraZeneca(AZ)/Oxford jabs, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the distribution of vaccines “has not been as equitable as we would have liked, but it has certainly been more equitable than it would have been otherwise”.
Challenges on the ground
The COVAX collective planned to deliver 11 million doses this week, Tedros continued, before cautioning that that “we still have many challenges to overcome, including the local production barriers relating to intellectual property”.
Countries are not in a race with each other, this is a common race against the #COVID19 virus. @WHO and our COVAX partners will continue to work day & night towards our #VaccinEquity vision in every country within the first 100 days of this year. There are now 39 days left.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 2, 2021
The WHO chief also noted that although vaccines were a powerful weapon against COVID-19, “they are not the only tool. Countries must continue using all the tools at their disposal including diagnostics, therapeutics and the full range of proven public health measures.”
COVAX partners the WHO, GAVI the Vaccine Alliance and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, aim to deliver just under two billion vaccines to around 190 countries and territories.
Although as multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have been developed at “record pace”, and manufacturing scaled up to produce hundreds of millions of doses, CEPI Chief Executive Officer Dr Richard Hatchett noted that emerging variants risked complicating the task of ending the pandemic.
“This is a moment for celebration and we must remain firmly focused on delivering equitable access if we are to stop the endless cycle of lockdowns”, he insisted.
‘Job is not done’
“But the job is not done when it comes to developing vaccines against COVID-19; in parallel in the global rollout of vaccines, we must now redouble our R&D efforts to tackle the emerging variants of COVID-19.”
Up to the end of May, 237 million doses have been allocated to 142 participant countries in the COVAX scheme, it said in a statement.
These include Afghanistan, which has been allocated 2.6 million vaccines, Algeria (1.9 million), Bangladesh (10.9 million), Brazil (9.1 million), Indonesia (11.7 million) and North Korea (1.7 million).
When countries can expect to receive their quotas will be made clear at the end of the week, as this is dependent on factors including national regulatory requirements, the availability of supply and other criteria such as whether national deployment and vaccination plans have been approved.
In addition to this first round of allocations, an exceptional distribution of 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was previously announced for delivery by the end of March.