With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting populations around the world with more than 110 million people having been infected and with more than 2.4 million deaths, the world is anxiously awaiting vaccines to permit vaccinations for vulnerable populations. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are co-leads of the COVAX initiative which seeks to provide equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. More than 2 billion vaccine doses have been or are being contracted to supply to 92 low- and middle-income countries as well as other countries who have agreed to buy vaccines through COVAX.
The World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern about “vaccine nationalism” as large and wealthier countries have contracted for large amounts of vaccines. In a joint statement with the UNICEF Executive Director on February 10, the WHO DG laid out what is needed in 2021 to achieve vaccine equitable distribution. See In the COVID-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together, Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 10 February 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/10-02-2021-in-the-covid-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together. The joint statement is embedded below.In-the-COVID-19-vaccine-race-we-either-win-together-or-lose-together
The problem of vaccine availability can be traced to a number of sources including the inability to predict which development efforts would succeed, efforts by governments to support development through funding and advance contracts which do not always support the early vaccine successes, challenges of approval processes in different countries and more. However, it is clear that in the early days of the vaccine rollout, a handful of countries have been able to obtain the largest amount of vaccine doses and to provide vaccinations to citizens. For example, the Financial Times has an update of its “Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate” published today (February 19) that looks at data for 99 countries or territories where vaccinations are reported through mid-February. Of a global total of 194.4 million vaccinations, 91.6% are reported by the following 10 countries or groups of countries: United States, 57.2 million; China 40.5 million; European Union, 24.7 million; United Kingdom, 17.0 million; India, 10.2 million; Israel, 7.1 million; Brazil 6.2 million; Turkey, 5.9 million; United Arab Emirates, 5.4 million; Russian Federation, 3.9 million. Of the 99 countries or territories, 24 reported vaccinations of at least 10/100 residents, an additional 30 reported vaccinations of at least 5.0-9.9/100 residents and an additional 10 reported vaccinations of at least 3.0-4.9/100. Gavi views 3% as the percent of population needed to be vaccinated to address health care workers. See Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, February 19, 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=usa&areas=eue&areas=ind&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=0
At today’s G-7 virtual meeting, there were new pledges from G-7 countries to contribute to COVAX to permit the purchase of vaccine doses contracted and with some countries agreeing to share surplus vaccine doses with the world’s poorest countries. The Gavi press release of today is embedded below.G7-backs-Gavis-COVAX-Advance-Market-Commitment-to-boost-COVID-19-vaccines-in-worlds-poorest-countries-_-Gavi-the-Vaccine-Alliance
In the December 2020 stimulus package, Congress authorized some funding for COVAX. President Biden outlined the U.S. contributions in a Fact Sheet posted on the White House webpage yesterday and at the G-7 virtual meeting today. See White House, Fact Sheet: President Biden to Take Action on Global health through Support of COVAX and Calling for Health Security Financing, February 18, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/18/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-take-action-on-global-health-through-support-of-covax-and-calling-for-health-security-financing/; New York Times, Biden Declares ‘America is Back’ on International Stage: Live Updates, February 19, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/19/world/g7-meeting-munich-security-conference#global-leaders-chart-a-new-course-in-post-trump-era. The fact sheet is embedded below and reports the U.S. will be contributing $2.0 billion quickly and $2.0 billion more over the remainder of 2021 and 2022.Fact-Sheet_-President-Biden-to-Take-Action-on-Global-Health-through-Support-of-COVAX-and-Calling-for-Health-Security-Financing-_-The-White-House
Much of the activity at the WTO over the last year has focused on the trade challenges flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Trade restrictions on exports of medical goods and agricultural goods have been tracked with various efforts to minimize scope and duration. Efforts at expediting the movement of medical goods and agricultural products have also been pursued, and debates have occurred on whether TRIPS rights should be waived during the pandemic to improve access to medical goods during the pandemic. Most advanced countries with pharmaceutical producers have argued that there are sufficient flexibilities within the WTO TRIPS Agreement to handle the current challenges. At the same time over recent years there have been efforts through the WHO, CEPI and GAVI and with the assistance of UNICEF to provide the infrastructure to permit collective purchasing of vaccines and other medical goods and the collection of funds to permit assisting low- and middle-income countries in terms of vaccine availability. COVID-19 is a truly global pandemic. The pressure on governments to find solutions is obviously enormous. Actions like those by the G-7 today and by other governments, NGOs and others to address the COVID-19 challenge are along the lines of what is needed to have more equitable distribution of vaccines. As the UN and WHO keep saying, no one is safe until all are safe.
The challenges for COVAX are huge and the goal for 2021 is to get 20% of the populations part of the program vaccinated. Developed countries and others able to do so need to continue to cooperate to see that these goals for 2021 are met and that further help is available moving into 2022. A study commissioned by the ICC estimates the global costs of not moving quickly to get all people in the world vaccinated at being more than $8 trillion — a figure that dwarfs the costs to get the vaccines produced, distributed and shots given. Hopefully, the world will cooperate and do what is needed to see that all countries can recover from the current pandemic in a timely manner.