World Health Organization and its partners in COVAX, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, are “working non-stop to start vaccination early next year,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Poorer countries will begin to receive coronavirus vaccination doses early next year from a facility created to ensure fair access, the World Health Organization and its partners said.
WHO program to help get Covid-19 vaccines to all countries in need has access to nearly 2 billion doses of “promising” vaccine candidates, officials said.
Countries including the United States and Britain have already begun to roll out a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNtech, with another developed by Moderna expected to gain widespread approval soon.
Neither drug is included in the two billion doses, but the WHO said it was in discussions with both companies.
The initiative WHO is co-leading, known as COVAX, also has yet to receive firm pledges and a timeline from rich countries to share the vaccines they have already secured for themselves.
Of the approximately 12 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, about 9 billion shots have already been reserved by rich countries. Canada is leading the pack, with around 10 doses reserved per Canadian, according to the science analytics company Airfinity.
20 percent target for 2021
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agreements mean that some 190 countries and economies taking part in the COVAX initiative will have access to vaccines “during the first half of next year.”
WHO and its partners in COVAX, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, were “working non-stop to start vaccination early next year,” he said, stressing that vaccines would not replace but complement techniques already proven to help stem the spread of the virus.
The UN-backed COVAX program needs $6.8 billion more to secure vaccine contracts and ensure delivery of allocated doses. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it is in world's best interests to ensure broad immunisation because “nature always strikes back.”
“If we don’t eradicate the disease, a virus can mutate,” Guterres said. “And vaccines that at a certain moment are effective can no longer be effective if things change.”
COVAX's vaccine dose arrangements include pharmaceutical makers British-Swedish AstraZeneca, US-based Johnson & Johnson and the Serum Institute of India, though talks with others are ongoing.
“We are certainly in discussions with Pfizer and Moderna. We’re hoping to be able to reach agreements with them. But we were not ready this morning,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, the head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
The UN health agency has previously said it was willing to include vaccines developed in China and Russia should those drugs prove safe and effective.
Mass immunisation plans
Developing countries also need to show they have a plan in place to roll out the vaccines. The UN's children's agency UNICEF, which would ship COVAX doses in the developing world, called a meeting this week with more than 300 vaccine procurement officials to go over what may be needed.
UNICEF has checklist running dozens of pages to prepare countries, said Benjamin Schreiber, a UNICEF immunisation expert who is coordinating the COVAX rollout.
“We can't send vaccines to countries if they're not ready,” he said.
COVAX is a collaboration between organisations, companies and 190 countries, but neither the United States nor Russia have joined so far.