The goal is to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021 and to focus initially on protecting health-care workers and people at higher risk.
Gavi and its partners aim to give countries that have already snapped up future supplies an opportunity to hedge the risk of backing unsuccessful vaccine candidates. (Representational image: Reuters)
An $18 billion initiative to deploy future Covid-19 vaccines around the world is moving into the next phase with 156 countries and regions taking part in the program, but China joining the U.S. on the sidelines, at least for now.
While China wasn’t on the list, 38 governments are expected to sign up in the coming days, according to a statement Monday from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The group is leading the effort, Covax, along with the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. The U.S. has said it won’t participate.
The goal is to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021 and to focus initially on protecting health-care workers and people at higher risk. Despite China’s uncertain status and the U.S. declining to take part, the organizers are pressing ahead with their effort to protect the world from the fast-spreading virus as the death toll approaches 1 million.
Beijing has focused on cutting one-on-one deals for vaccine doses. Signing up to Covax was seen as a possible way for China to help repair its image around the world over how it handled the initial coronavirus outbreak and fill a void left by the absence of the U.S. WHO and Gavi officials said in a news conference that discussions with China are continuing.
A number of other countries including the U.S. are crafting their own deals to obtain vaccines, sparking concern that poorer regions will be left behind.
Gavi and its partners aim to give countries that have already snapped up future supplies an opportunity to hedge the risk of backing unsuccessful vaccine candidates. The program meanwhile offers a lifeline for poorer nations that can’t otherwise afford vaccines, as well as a number of higher-income ones that don’t have supply deals with manufacturers, according to its organizers.
The program plans to prioritize health-care workers and expand to provide doses for as much as 20% of the population of participating countries. Covax intends to use collective purchasing power to negotiate highly competitive prices from manufacturers.
The partners said Monday that 64 higher-income economies have joined Covax.
Health advocates have emphasized that uneven efforts to vaccinate the world would allow the virus to continue to spread, resulting in a worse outcome for everyone.
Although the Trump administration declined to join Covax, officials from Gavi and CEPI have noted that the U.S. is investing substantial funds to spur research, development and manufacturing of potential Covid-19 vaccines that could have a global impact.
Within the broader program is a plan to ensure that dozens of middle- and lower-income countries that cannot fully afford to pay for vaccines themselves get shots at the same time as richer nations. Gavi said 92 low- and middle-income economies are eligible for support through an arrangement called an advance market commitment that’s raised about $700 million of the target of $2 billion needed by the end of the year.
Substantially more funding would be needed next year to purchase doses for those countries, Seth Berkley, Gavi’s chief executive officer, said in a recent interview.
“It’s a tough time for financing given effects on the economy globally,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic, but it is going to be a big lift.”