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How Will Covax Deliver Covid-19 Vaccines to Poorer Countries?

03/02/2021 | 09:07am

By Gabriele Steinhauser

Developing countries are falling dangerously behind in the global race to end the coronavirus pandemic through vaccinations. The Covax facility aims to get Covid-19 shots to at least 20% of the populations of the world's poorest nations.

What is Covax?

Covax is the world's main effort for getting Covid-19 vaccines to poorer nations. It was started last year by the World Health Organization and two groups that have been working on getting vaccines to developing countries -- Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations -- when it became clear that many nations would struggle to access the shots. As rich countries have done, Covax made deals with vaccine manufacturers to buy doses before they had passed clinical trials and been approved by drug regulators. The money to buy the vaccines has been donated mostly by Western governments and charitable groups, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Who is participating in the WHO program?

Covax aims to provide free Covid-19 vaccines to at least 20% of the populations of the world's 92 poorest countries by the end of 2021. Just over 50 other nations, including Canada and upper-middle-income nations such as South Africa and Mexico, have also ordered vaccines through Covax, but have to pay for the doses themselves.

Which vaccines have been secured?

Covax has made deals with most of the big manufacturers, including Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc. But during the first half of 2021, the majority of planned deliveries from the facility are for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University. For the whole year, the AstraZeneca vaccine is forecast to make up about one-third of Covax supplies, assuming that the shots by J&J and Novavax and other manufacturers get authorized as expected.

How many Covid vaccines will be donated?

Covax says it has negotiated deals for about 2.27 billion doses of vaccines this year, although many are for shots that have yet to be authorized or are still in clinical trials. All vaccines, except the J&J one, require two doses and some of them will go to the self-financing countries. Covax has also called on rich countries, which have bought enough vaccines to cover their populations multiple times over this year, to donate any extra doses. So far, the U.K. and Canada have said they would share surplus doses, but without giving details of when they would do so. Norway has said it would start sharing vaccines with developing countries at the same time as it starts immunizing its own people, while France has called on European countries to start giving about 5% of their vaccines to African nations now.

How will vaccines be shared with poorer countries?

Covax made its first delivery to Ghana on Feb. 24 and since then several other countries have received a first round of vaccines from the facility. Supplies during the first half of the year are extremely constrained. Covax says it expects to ship 237 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of May, covering less than 3% of the population of the participating countries. A delivery of 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer shot planned for the first quarter has been delayed as the company works with governments to overcome indemnification and logistical issues. Covax's purchase agreements with manufacturers are tied to a vaccine getting an emergency-use listing from the WHO, which in turn is used by regulators in many developing countries to approve the shots locally.

How is the U.S. supporting the Covax effort?

Under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. stood out among major Western governments for not contributing to Covax. President Biden has announced a $4 billion contribution to the facility. Washington will make an initial donation of $2 billion and then release an additional $2 billion throughout 2021 and 2022.

Can this program help put an end to the global health crisis?

Covax's backers say the donated shots should help to end the acute phase of the pandemic by protecting a society's most vulnerable members from getting seriously ill with Covid-19 and overwhelming hospitals. But the supplies secured so far will fall far short of helping benefiting countries to achieve herd immunity, so the virus is likely to continue circulating among the people who haven't been vaccinated. That, some health experts warn, leaves opportunities for the virus to develop mutations that could allow it to evade the immune response triggered by the current crop of Covid-19 vaccines.

Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at gabriele.steinhauser@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

03-02-21 0906ET

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