A coalition of 156 countries has agreed a “landmark” deal to enable the rapid and equitable global distribution of any new coronavirus vaccines to 3% of participating countries’ populations, to protect vulnerable healthcare systems, frontline health workers and those in social care settings.
The Covid-19 vaccine allocation plan – co-led by the World Health Organization and known as Covax – has been set up to ensure that the research, purchase and distribution of any new vaccine is shared equally between the world’s richest countries and those in the developing world.
Sixty-four higher income economies have already joined Covax, which includes commitments from 35 economies as well as the European commission, which will procure doses on behalf of the 27 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland, with 38 more expected to join in the coming days.
Ultimately the scheme aims to deliver 2bn doses of safe, effective vaccines around the world by the end of 2021.
Governments, vaccine manufacturers, organisations and individuals have committed $1.4bn (£1.1bn) towards vaccine research and development so far.
Recognising that the first useful vaccines to emerge may be in short supply, approved vaccines will initially be made available to a tightly targeted 3% of the population of participating countries, building over time to 20% of each country’s most vulnerable population.
Unveiling the agreement at a briefing in Geneva last Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the UN health body, said Covax represented the “world’s largest and most diverse portfolio of Covid vaccines” in which the priority would be given to those most at risk.
“This is a mechanism that enables global coordination of the rollout for the greatest possible impact and will help bring the pandemic under control and ensure the race for vaccines is a collaboration not a contest,” he said.
He added that the scheme would ensure vaccines for “some people in all countries and not all people in some countries”.
According to a document detailing the arrangement, under the scheme “all countries should gradually receive tranches [of vaccine] to cover each subset of their [initial] target groups … until they can cover 3% of the population”.
The document continues: “At this point of the pandemic, a reasonable scenario would be that, while the supply of Covid-19 vaccines remains very scarce, countries should focus initially on reducing mortality and protecting the health system.
“This … would enable, for example, the vaccination of frontline workers in health and social care settings in most countries … Additional tranches will follow gradually as more supply becomes available.”
While decisions on the distribution of vaccines initially supplied under the scheme will remain at individual nations’ discretion, it said it was encouraging “countries to consider these recommendations and to be transparent about their decision-making processes and ultimate use of the vaccine”.
Set up to counter the increasing threat of so-called “vaccine nationalism” in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, Covax is being led by the WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (Cepi) to ensure the “equitable access and allocation of Covid-19 health products”, not least vaccines.
Gavi welcomed that Covax was “now in business”.
“Governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi.
“With the commitments we’re announcing today for the Covax facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available.”
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of Cepi, said: “This is a landmark moment in the history of public health with the international community coming together to tackle this pandemic.
“The global spread of Covid-19 means that it is only through equitable and simultaneous access to new lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines that we can hope to end this pandemic.
“Countries coming together in this way shows a unity of purpose and resolve to end the acute phase of this pandemic, and we must now work closely with vaccine manufacturers – who play an integral part in the global response – to put in place the agreements needed to fulfil Covax’s core aim: to have 2bn vaccine doses available by the end of 2021. Today, we have taken a great leap towards that goal, for the benefit of all.”