Sat | Oct 24, 2020

COVID-19 fight on - Countries, candidates work to provide safe, equitable access to vaccines

Published:Wednesday | August 26, 2020 | 12:18 AM

One hundred and Seventy-two economies are now engaged in discussions to potentially participate in COVAX, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVAX currently has the world’s largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio – including nine candidate vaccines, with a further nine under evaluation and conversations underway with other major producers.

COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the WHO – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers. It is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.

In order to be able to secure enough doses of vaccines to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as health workers and the elderly, the next step for the partnership is to confirm potential self-financing participants’ intent to participate by August 31 and to turn these into binding commitments to join the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) by September 18, with first upfront payments to follow thereafter, and no later than October 9.

KEY TO BEATING VIRUS

“Equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine is the key to beating the virus and paving the way for recovery from the pandemic,” said Stefan Löfven, prime minister of Sweden. “This cannot be a race with a few winners, and the COVAX Facility is an important part of the solution – making sure all countries can benefit from access to the world’s largest portfolio of candidates and fair and equitable distribution of vaccine doses.”

The COVAX Facility is a Gavi-coordinated pooled procurement mechanism for new COVID-19 vaccines, through which COVAX will ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for each participating economy, using an allocation framework currently being formulated by WHO. The COVAX Facility will do this by pooling buying power from participating economies and providing volume guarantees across a range of promising vaccine candidates, allowing those vaccine manufacturers whose expertise is essential to large-scale production of the new vaccines to make early, at-risk investments in manufacturing capacity – providing participating countries and economies with the best chance at rapid access to doses of a successful COVID-19 vaccine.

The success of COVAX hinges not only on countries signing up to the COVAX Facility, but also filling key funding gaps for both COVAX R&D work and a mechanism to support the participation of lower-income economies in the COVAX Facility.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented global health challenge that can only be met with unprecedented cooperation between governments, researchers, manufacturers and multilateral partners,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO. “By pooling resources and acting in solidarity through the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, we can ensure that once a vaccine is available for COVID-19, it’s available equitably to all countries.”

CEPI is leading COVAX vaccine research and development work, which aims to develop three safe and effective vaccines which can be made available to countries participating in the COVAX Facility. Nine candidate vaccines are currently being supported by CEPI; seven of which are currently in clinical trials. Governments, vaccine manufacturers (in addition to their own R&D), organisations and individuals have committed US$1.4 billion towards vaccine R&D so far, but an additional US$1 billion is urgently needed to continue to move the portfolio forward.