No sign of US, China as global vaccine plan gathers momentum

The COVAX initiative pools resources to ensure poorer nations will have access to any life-saving future vaccine.

An initiative to ensure any future vaccine against COVID-19 is fairly shared throughout the world has secured the backing of 156 countries and territories, representing about 64 percent of the global population, but the United States and China have yet to sign up.

The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) is being led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and aims to deliver some two billion vaccine doses around the world by the end of next year. 

“COVAX is now in business: governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere,” Gavi CEO Dr Seth Berkley said in a statement.

“With the commitments we’re announcing today for the COVAX Facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available.”

The statement said 64 wealthier economies had joined the facility, which aims to bring together both  governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need wherever they are in the world. More were expected to join in the coming days, it added.

“The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing.

“This is not charity, it’s in every country’s best interest. We sink or we swim together.”

The initiative is based on the idea that by pooling financial and scientific resources, participating territories will be able to insure themselves against the failure of any individual vaccine candidate and secure successful vaccines in a cost-effective way. 

Access for all

“COVAX and the idea of equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of ability to pay, is not just a moral imperative, it is the only practical solution to this pandemic,” Dr Edwin G Dikoloti, Minister of Health and Wellness for Botswana, said in a statement. “Protecting everyone is the only way we can return our world – our trade, tourism, travel, business – to normal. We urge those countries who have not yet signed up to do so. Let us work together to protect each other.” 

The US, which was not on the list of those backing COVAX, has been securing supplies through bilateral deals, leading to accusations of vaccine nationalism. 

China, where the coronavirus began, was also not on the list, but officials said discussions were continuing, according to Reuters news agency.

COVAX will bring the richer countries together with 92 low- and middle-income economies such as the Philippines and Indonesia, which are eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a financing instrument. 

COVAX aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines that can be made available to those participating in the scheme, and has so far secured funding commitments of $1.4bn. 

Nine candidate vaccines are currently being supported by CEPI; eight of which are currently in clinical trials, it said.

“This is a landmark moment in the history of public health with the international community coming together to tackle this pandemic,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI. “The global spread of COVID-19 means that it is only through equitable and simultaneous access to new lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines that we can hope to end this pandemic.”

Governments had until September 19 to sign up to COVAX, and the facility will now start signing formal agreements with vaccine manufacturers and developers.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response,” the WHO chief said. “Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery.”

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