Covax will take excess doses of Covid vaccines off the hands of rich countries

Countries have ordered an estimated 800-million more doses of the Covid-19 vaccines than their populations need, the chief executive of the global vaccine alliance (Gavi), Seth Berkley, said on Tuesday.

Speaking on a virtual panel at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogues, he said the Covax initiative, co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organisation, would be willing to buy these excess doses.

Though many countries were interested in donating or selling these doses to Covax early on, concern over new variants has sparked a new wave of vaccine panic among governments, Berkley added. 

According to Gavi, Covax is part of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, which brings together governments, health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, the private sector and civil society to provide access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. Covax focuses on vaccines.

Earlier in the session, Berkley said Covax was established in response to concerns that governments with advanced economies would buy up vaccines before other countries could get their hands on doses.
He warned: “We’re only safe if everyone is safe.”

In a separate session, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government is “deeply concerned” about vaccine nationalism. 

“The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines from the manufacturers and developers of these vaccines. Some countries went even beyond and acquired up to four times what their populations need,” Ramaphosa said during the discussion on South Africa’s economic recovery plan from Covid-19. “And that was aimed at hoarding the vaccines. This is being done to the exclusion of other countries in the world that most need this.”

Research shows that efforts to vaccinate populations against Covid-19, to the exclusion of other countries, will not shield them from the pandemic’s economic fallout.

A recent epidemiological study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce found that the global economy stands to lose as much as $9.2-trillion if governments fail to ensure developing countries gain access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The study’s authors used an economic epidemiological model of international production and trade networks to make its findings. The researchers estimate that advanced economies will bear up to 53% of the pandemic’s global economic costs in 2021, even if they achieve universal vaccination in their own countries.

To minimise the pandemic’s domestic economic costs on countries, a globally coordinated push for the production and the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine is required, the study concludes.

Covax will start delivering doses of vaccines by February, with the view of scaling up deliveries to distribute two billion doses by the end of 2021.

Last week Covax announced the signing of an advance purchase agreement with Pfizer for up to 40-million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

Covax also confirmed that it would exercise an option to receive its first 100-million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. The majority of these first 100-million doses are earmarked for delivery in the first quarter of 2021.

In a statement, Covax said it anticipates that at least 50-million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be available for delivery in the first quarter of the year.

John Nkengasong, director of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said during the Tuesday discussion that Covax represents a new way of doing business in solving common threats.

“We really don’t want this narrative to last that each time the world is threatened … we all fall inward and everybody looks after themselves. And we forget that we are all connected. We are all united.”

Also on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund revised up its world growth forecast by

0.3% point relative to its previous forecast. It now projects that the global economy will grow by 5.5% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022. This upward revision reflects expectations of a vaccine-powered strengthening of economic activity later in the year.

But, the IMF economic outlook report added: “Although recent vaccine approvals have raised hopes of a turnaround in the pandemic later this year, renewed waves and new variants of the virus pose concerns for the outlook.”

The IMF revised down South Africa’s forecast growth in 2021 to 2.8% from a prior projection of 3%.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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