The COVAX facility will not only pool risk for countries developing and buying vaccines, but also ensure prices are kept "as low as possible," WHO chief Tedros says.

A Microsoft volunteer, Neal Browning, receives a shot in the first-stage clinical trial of a Covid-19  vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. March 16, 2020.
A Microsoft volunteer, Neal Browning, receives a shot in the first-stage clinical trial of a Covid-19 vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. March 16, 2020. (AP)

Some 172 countries are engaging with the COVAX facility designed to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization has said, but more funding is needed and countries need to make binding commitments now.

Countries wishing to be part of the global COVAX plan have until August 31 to submit expressions of interest, WHO officials said on Monday, with confirmation of intention to join due by September 18, and initial payments due by October 9.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the facility was critical to ending the Covid-19 pandemic, and would not only pool risk for countries developing and buying vaccines, but also ensure prices are kept "as low as possible."

"Vaccine nationalism only helps the virus," he told a media briefing. "The success of the COVAX facility hinges not only on countries signing up to it but also filling key funding gaps."

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Access to vaccine globally

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI vaccines alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and is designed to guarantee equitable access globally to Covid-19 vaccines once they are developed and authorised for use.

It currently covers nine candidate Covid-19 vaccines and its aim is to secure supplies of and deliver 2 billion doses across countries that sign up by the end of 2021.

"Initially, when there will be limited supply (of Covid-19 vaccines), it's important to provide the vaccine to those at highest risk around the globe," Tedros said.

He said this included health workers on the front lines of the pandemic, who were "critical to saving lives and stabilising the overall health system." 

Global competition for vaccine doses could trigger a spiking of prices exponentially compared to a collaborative effort such as the COVAX Facility, he warned.

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Plasma therapy still 'experimental'

With the US issuing emergecy authorisation for plasma therapy, the WHO said using plasma from recovered patients to treat the virus is still considered an “experimental” therapy and that the preliminary results showing it may work are still “inconclusive.”

WHO’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said convalescent plasma therapy has been used in the last century to treat numerous infectious diseases, with varying levels of success. Swaminathan says WHO still considers convalescent plasma therapy to be experimental and said it should continue to be evaluated.

She added that the treatment is difficult to standardise, since people produce different levels of antibodies and the plasma must be collected individually from recovered patients.

Swaminathan says that the studies have been small and provided “low-quality evidence.” She says countries can “do an emergency listing if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks” but that that's "usually done when you’re waiting for the more definitive evidence.”

Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to WHO’s director-general, said that convalescent plasma therapy can come with numerous side effects, from a mild fever and chills to more severe lung-related injuries.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies