A WHO-led initiative to make coronavirus vaccine accessible to all received a boost on Friday with China announcing its intention to join the initiative. The COVAX facility seeks to accelerate the development and production of coronavirus vaccines through pooling in resources from the member countries, and then ensure that it is equitably distributed amongst them.
It is also meant to be a counter to the individual efforts of some rich countries, like the United States, which have been getting into bilateral billion-dollar deals with vaccine manufacturers for prioritised and assured supply of doses, when these vaccines become available. The United States, for example, has booked 800 million doses through six developers. The United Kingdom has booked 350 million doses. The prioritised supplies during the initial months of production of the vaccine could potentially starve other countries of the vaccines, because of limited production capacities.
The COVAX facility also intends to get into similar deals with vaccine manufacturers, but the vaccines that come out of it would be meant for all the member countries, and the initial supplies would be restricted to a maximum of 20 per cent of the most vulnerable population groups in each of these countries. The idea is to ensure that those who need the vaccine the most, in every part of the world, get access first.
But the COVAX facility has been struggling to find enough money to fund those deals. WHO has said the initiative requires US$ 16 in total to get going, but all it has right now in pledges is about US$ 2 billion.
It is not clear how much is China willing to bring on the table. A statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not specify the financial contribution that it was willing to make to the COVAX facility, but Reuters reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping had committed US$ 2 billion in May this year for the pandemic over the next two years.
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China’s decision to join the COVAX initiative could be prompted by a desire to earn some international goodwill at a time when it is facing intense criticism for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The move could also help China in pushing its own vaccines through the COVAX facility. Right now, there is only one Chinese vaccine candidate in the list of nine that the COVAX facility is backing. China has the maximum number of vaccines at the clinical trial stage, at least nine.
WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Friday that South Korea had also decided to join the COVAX initiative this week. So far, 171 countries and economies have joined the platform.
“Initially, supply of vaccines will be limited. But by sharing supply equitably, countries and economies that are part of COVAX can distribute vaccines simultaneously to priority populations, including health workers, older people and those with underlying conditions. The aim of COVAX is to ensure that 2 billion doses are manufactured and distributed equitably by the end of 2021,” Ghebreyesus said.
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Hunt for coronavirus vaccine: The story so far
As on October 9:
- 193 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical or clinical trials
- 42 of them in clinical trials
- Ten in final stages, phase-III of human trials
- At least eight candidate vaccines being developed in India. Two of these have entered phase -II trials after completing phase-I.
The ones most talked about:
* AstraZeneca/Oxford University
* Johnson & Johnson
* Russian vaccine, developed by Gamaleya Insttiute in Moscow
* Three Chinese vaccines that have been approved for use in China without phase-3 trials being completed. One of them has been given emergency use authorisation in UAE
(Source: WHO Coronavirus vaccine landscape of October 2, 2020)
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