WHO Warns Of June-July Covax Doses Shortfall

A carton box of a Covishield vaccine developed by Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) is unloaded at Mumbai airport on February 24, 2021, as part of the Covax scheme, which aims to procure and distribute inoculations fairly among all nations.
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP

 

 

The World Health Organization said Friday a shortfall in COVID-19 vaccine doses going through the Covax programme in June and July could undermine the efficiency of the roll-out.

Covax was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, and has already delivered more than 80 million doses to 129 territories.

But that is “about 200 million doses behind where we want to be”, Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s Covax frontman, told reporters in Geneva.

So while wealthy countries had pledged to give some 150 million doses so far — on top of the doses Covax procures with donated funds — that would not resolve the problem.

“We are setting up for failure if we don’t get early doses. We are not on track yet: we don’t have enough doses from enough countries early enough to get the world on track to get out of this,” Aylward said.

While the pledges to donate 150 million doses through Covax was a “great start”, Aylward said there were “two big problems”.

“Number one, very little is committed to the June-July period, which means we’re going to still have this gap,” Aylward said.

“The other problem is just the volume. If we are going to get on track to get at least 30-40 percent of the world population vaccinated this year we got to get another 250 million people vaccinated between now and the end of September.”

Supply problems

Covax is an international scheme co-led by the WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

It intends to procure enough vaccines for 30 percent of the population in 92 of the poorest participating territories — 20 percent in India — with donors covering the cost.

Covax has been hit by inequalities in the global vaccine roll-out, but also delivery delays.

AstraZeneca shots making up 97 percent of doses supplied so far — the rest being Pfizer-BioNTech.

The Serum Institute of India, producing AstraZeneca doses, was to have been the backbone of Covax’s supply chain. However, New Delhi restricted vaccine exports to combat a devastating domestic surge.

SII said Wednesday that it hoped to resume supplies to Covax over the next few months.

Covax was set up to combat the likelihood of rich countries buying up most available vaccine doses — which occurred as predicted.

On Thursday, the world hit the milestone of two billion Covid-19 vaccines having been injected around the world, according to an AFP count.

But of those doses, 37 percent have been administered in high-income countries accounting for 16 percent of the global population.

Just 0.3 percent have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the world’s people.

Ghana Receives World’s First Doses Of Free Covax Vaccines

Airport workers transport on dollies a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the Covax global Covid-19 vaccination programme, at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra on February 24, 2021. PHOTO: NIPAH DENNIS / AFP

 

Ghana on Wednesday became the first country to receive vaccines from Covax, a global scheme to procure and distribute Covid inoculations for free for poorer countries.

Launched last April, Covax said it planned to ship two billion doses by year’s end.

“The next phase in the fight against this disease can begin -– the ramping up of the largest immunisation campaign in history,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore declared in a statement.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Nigeria Records Less Than 700 Cases For Four Consecutive Days

“At last!” World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whose organisation also backs the Covax initiative, said in a tweet.

“A day to celebrate, but it’s just the first step.”

This photograph taken on February 24, 2021, shows a Covax tag on a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the Covax global Covid-19 vaccination programme, at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. PHOTO: NIPAH DENNIS / AFP

 

The 600,000 doses delivered to Ghana are the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula, made under license by the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India.

They are part of an initial tranche of deliveries headed to several low and middle-income countries.

An Emirates flight carrying the vaccines touched down at Accra’s Kotoka International Airport shortly after 0740 GMT, where a government delegation led by the Minister for Health Designate Kwaku Agyeman Manu received them, in images broadcast on television.

Ghana’s food and drug authority has already authorised the use of the Indian-made vaccines as well as Russia’s Sputnik V, according to local media.

The West African nation has recorded 80,759 Covid-19 cases and 582 deaths since the start of the pandemic, although the true figure is believed to be higher because of lack of testing.

Vaccinations are scheduled to start on Tuesday in Accra, Kumasi, and Obuasi.

They will begin with health workers and other frontline staff, adults over 60, and people with underlying health conditions, Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah said.

The first who will get the vaccines also include “frontline executive, legislature, judiciary, and their related staff, frontline security personnel, some religious leaders, essential workers, teachers, and other personalities,” he said.

The government said it was making “frantic efforts” to acquire enough vaccines to inoculate all of Ghana’s 30 million people and urged people to take part in the drive.

– New variants –

Covax, led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), had expected the first round of deliveries in March with some early shipments occurring in late February.

For Ghana, it aims to deliver 2,412,000 doses.

Africa has been relatively spared by the pandemic.

It was the last continent except Oceania to reach the threshold of 100,000 deaths, which Europe crossed in April 2020.

To help speed the immunisation of the continent’s 1.3 billion people, the African Union said it had secured 270 million doses of anti-Covid vaccines for delivery this year.

The WHO on Monday accused wealthy countries of hogging Covid vaccines and hindering the pathway for poorer nations to get them too.

The health agency said some rich countries’ direct deals with manufacturers had meant that previously-agreed vaccine allocations for poorer countries, via the Covax programme, were being reduced.

Some 145 participating economies are set to receive 337.2 million doses — enough to vaccinate a little over three per cent of their combined populations.

Covax has said it hopes to raise the figure to up to 27 per cent in lower-income countries by the end of December.

New variants of the virus, including in neighbouring Nigeria, are spreading across the continent with the UK and South African variants recorded in cases in Ghana.

“It is strongly recommended for countries to use the AstraZeneca vaccine even if the… new variants are present,” the WHO said in a statement last week.

In Ghana, schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but large social gatherings are banned and land and sea borders have remained closed since March 2020.

Economic growth is expected to have plummeted in 2020 to its lowest in three decades, to 0.9 per cent according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), from 6.5 per cent in 2019.

AFP