The UN-backed program aims to provide coronavirus vaccines to hundreds of millions of people in need around the world.
Low- and middle-income countries have fallen behind in the COVID vaccination race, but successful global vaccination is key to ending the coronavirus pandemic.
Ghana on Wednesday became the first country to receive vaccines under COVAX – an initiative to reduce the vaccine disparity between high and low income countries – with the arrival of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in the capital Accra.
This is COVAX’s first success, but it has struggled to secure sufficient supplies from pharmaceutical companies.
Here’s what you need to know about COVAX:
What is COVAX?
COVAX is a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and two international groups – the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – which aims to ship vaccines to developing countries.
The majority of its funding comes from high-income countries and international organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At a recent summit of industrial nations, several leaders announced a significant increase contributions to the diagram.
What is its purpose?
COVAX aims to deliver two billion doses of the vaccine to people in 190 countries this year, ensuring that at least 20 percent of populations are vaccinated. Most importantly, it aims to send vaccines free to 92 low-income countries.
High and middle income countries are also part of the program on a self-financing basis. COVAX’s pricing mechanism is set so that rich countries pay a premium to subsidize poorer countries.
What has he achieved so far?
COVAX has bilateral agreements with several large companies producing COVID-19 vaccines, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. But most of the vaccines allocated in the first half of this year were produced by AstraZeneca whose vaccine does not need ultra-cold storage than other vaccines.
COVAX says it has collected 1.12 billion shots so far, with most deliveries due to start in March and a few smaller shipments by the end of February. In its interim distribution forecast published in early February (PDF), it presented its plan to distribute a first batch of 336 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by mid-2021. It also aims to start shipping 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first quarter.
What are the challenges?
COVAX initially aimed to deliver vaccines to poor countries at the same time as rich countries received their first doses. But high-income countries have made bilateral deals with vaccine makers and have made progress with vaccine deployment, as COVAX struggles to get enough doses to start shipping.
Some rich countries, such as the UK and Canada, have obtained enough doses to fully immunize their populations more than once. The United Nations strongly criticized the “extremely unequal and unfairVaccine distribution, noting that as of mid-February, only 10 countries had administered 75 percent of all vaccinations. In contrast, 2.5 billion people living in 130 countries have not received a dose, according to the WHO.
The deployment in Ghana is an important milestone for COVAX, which is trying to narrow a politically sensitive gap between the millions of people vaccinated in wealthier countries and the few who received vaccines in less developed regions of the world.