Covid Vaccine
Getty/Mladen Antonov
  • COVAX, the global alliance to ensure a fair supply of coronavirus vaccines in poorer countries, is struggling in its mission, according to the Associated Press (AP)
  • It has acquired only 10% of the 2 billion doses it intends to buy in the next year, according to the AP. 
  • Additionally, it is $5 billion short of the funds needed, the AP reported. A report seen by the outlet said its risk of failure is now “very high.”
  • Meanwhile, the bulk of 2021’s planned production has already been preordered by countries like the US, the UK and Canada, the outlet reported. 
  • The buyout — as well as many other practical factors — means that poorer countries could wait years to get an effective number of vaccines. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

COVAX, the global alliance to secure a supply of coronavirus vaccines for poorer countries, is struggling in its mission, according to the Associated Press (AP)

“The whole call for global solidarity has mostly been lost,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s vaccine director, in frank internal recordings obtained by the AP. 

WHO set up COVAX in partnership with the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to give poorer nations a fair chance to get access to a vaccine. 

But as wealthy countries rush to preorder as much as they can, COVAX has managed to secure a total of 200 million doses – a tenth of the 2 billion it aimed at buying over the next year, according to the AP. 

The purchase of another 500 million doses has also been agreed, but not in a way that is legally binding, the agency said. 

It is also $5 billion short of the money needed to buy them, the AP reported. 

"COVAX has not secured enough doses, and the way the situation may unfold is they will probably only get these doses fairly late," it reported Arnaud Bernaert, head of global health at the World Economic Forum, as saying. 

In total, of the 12 billion expected to be produced by the pharmaceutical industry next year, about 9 billion have been preordered by rich countries, the AP reported. 

The West is getting shots already

vaccine rollout in Uk Scotland coronavirus
A nurse in Scotland waits to administer the country's first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, December 8, 2020.
Andrew Milligan/Pool via Reuters

COVAX has been hesitant to order stocks before vaccines have secured WHO approval, unlike many countries which have essentially been placing bets on likely candidates, the AP reported.

By September, as confidence in the success of various candidates began to grow, rich countries representing 13% of the world's population had already secured half the forthcoming supply, according to Oxfam

Now vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna, are in the process of being approved by various national governments, prompting enormous fanfare about their arrival in places like the UK, the US and Canada.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine - enough to vaccinate 20 million people - and, according to the BBC, another 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On December 8, British grandmother Margaret Keenan jumped into the international limelight as the first person in the West to receive an approved COVID-19 vaccine, from Pfizer.

Orders have poured in from rich nations, with Canada securing 200 million doses - five times as many as it needs to treat its entire population, according to the AP.

The European Commission ordered 200 million doses from BioNTech/Pfizer in November, with an option for 100 million more later. 

The UK pledged $700 million to COVAX in September, and in October China became the 157th country to sign up.

The US has refused to back the initiative. But according to a Duke University report, it will control around a quarter of the world's near-term supply, as Business Insider's Grace Dean reported

Countries strike out on their own

The rich-country buyout has mopped up much of 2021's forthcoming supply. But even with enough doses, there would be many other obstacles.

Distribution and storage present a major logistical challenge. In some cases it requires an ultra-cold supply chain and storage system, which simply doesn't exist in poorer areas.

A Gavi report issued in December said that the risk COVAX will fail its mission is "very high," according to the AP. And countries are beginning to make other plans. 

The island nation of Palau said in December it would leave the initiative, while Malaysia, Peru and Bangladesh are seeking deals as a form of backup plan, the AP reported.

South Africa and India have called on the World Trade Organization to waive some intellectual property rights around the vaccine, the AP reported. 

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