COVAX, a global initiative that aims to ramp up vaccine manufacturing and ensure their equitable distribution around the world, has already delivered life-saving COVID-19 jabs to more than 100 countries.
The 100-country milestone was hit when the Caribbean island of St. Lucia received 24,000 doses through the facility, 42 days after the organization delivered its first shipment to Ghana, a release published by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, states on Monday.
The announcement came after deliveries slowed down in part due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in India, which increased demand for doses produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), one of the facility’s main manufacturers. Additional challenges related to scaling and process optimization have also negatively affected vaccine supply throughout March and April.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the news, adding that vaccines had reached some of the world’s most vulnerable regions at a time when communities in conflict-affected areas grapple with the effects of the pandemic.
“As we continue our common race to speed up safe and effective vaccination everywhere, I want to commend COVAX for having delivered first vaccines to 100 countries in every corner of the world, including some of the most vulnerable warn torn countries like Afghanistan and Yemen,” von der Leyen said. “This is a real milestone.”
By the end of 2021, COVAX aims to deliver 2 billion doses to help end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of its donor-backed advance market commitment (AMC) guarantee, it places a strong emphasis on giving priority to lower-income countries, which make up 61 of the 100 economies where vaccines have been delivered so far. The facility has stated it will continue to work towards reaching that goal by diversifying its offering and striking up new deals with manufacturers.
But getting vaccines to health care workers and all those who need them the most is no easy task, and additional support from the global community is also needed to address supply challenges and ensure that vaccines are available to everyone, everywhere, Gavi CEO Seth Berkeley said.
“We still face a daunting challenge as we seek to end the acute stage of the pandemic," Berkeley said. "As we continue with the largest and most rapid global vaccine rollout in history, this is no time for complacency."
To help the facility achieve its targets by the end of the year and speed up the vaccine rollout in poorer countries, more funding is needed, according to the United Nations. An additional $2 billion commitment from world leaders could go a long way in securing up to 1.8 billion doses for the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, high-income countries can also contribute to the success of COVAX by combating vaccine hogging and donating their excess doses as soon as possible. Pharmaceutical companies can also do their part by setting non-profit prices and waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines.
“This is no time to celebrate; it is time to accelerate,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "With variants emerging all over the world, we need to speed up global rollout. To do this, we need governments, along with other partners, to take necessary steps to increase supply, including by simplifying barriers to intellectual property rights, eliminating direct and indirect measures that restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines, and donating excess vaccine doses as quickly as possible.”