First shipment of COVAX vaccine reaches Ghana, hope for the developing world

A shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the global COVAX vaccination program arrives at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, on February 24, 2021.

Nipah Dennis | AFP | fake images

The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines delivered through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program arrived in Ghana on Wednesday, a hopeful turning point for developing countries that risk being left behind in the global race for the vaccines against a virus that has killed nearly 2.5 million people. World.

The flight brought in 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one that is considered much easier to distribute to developing countries as it does not require extremely cold storage temperatures like the Pfizer-GenTech and Moderna vaccines.

Vaccines delivered on Wednesday will take priority for front-line medical workers, people over the age of 60 and people with pre-existing health problems, according to the Ghana Information Ministry.

“Today marks the historic moment that we have been planning and working so hard for,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a joint statement from her agency and Ghana’s WHO.

“With the first shipment of doses, we can deliver on the promise of the COVAX facility to ensure that people in less wealthy countries are not left behind in the race for life-saving vaccines.”

Airport workers transport on dollies a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from Covax’s global Covid-19 vaccination program, at Kotoka International Airport in Accra on February 24, 2021.

Nipah Dennis | AFP | fake images

COVAX is a global plan co-led by WHO, an international vaccine alliance called Gavi, and the Coalition for Innovations in Epidemic Preparedness.

As the richest nations go ahead with expensive vaccine development and procurement, the poorest countries are suffering the consequences of inequality. Mark Suzman, executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in December that it may already be too late for equitable distribution of vaccines due to massive deals already negotiated by rich countries.

Rich nations, which make up just 14% of the world’s population, had secured 53% of the world’s supply of the best-performing coronavirus vaccines by December, according to a group of human rights activists called the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

COVAX was established to achieve equitable access to vaccines globally, with a goal of vaccinating 20% ​​of people in the world’s 92 poorest countries by the end of 2021 through donations. Several other middle-income countries are poised to purchase vaccines through COVAX on a self-financed basis. The plan aims to deliver 2 billion doses this year of vaccines that have been approved as safe and effective by the WHO.

The injections delivered to Ghana were produced by the Serum Institute of India, which has been given access to the intellectual property that enables it to produce vaccines using the Oxford-AstraZeneca formula. The African Union has obtained some 670 million doses of the vaccine from the Serum Institute for its member countries, and aims to inoculate 60% of the African population of 1.3 billion people in the next two to three years.

‘By far the fastest of all time’

“This is incredibly significant. We want the gap between when the rich and the poor get vaccinated to be reduced to zero,” Hassan Damluji, deputy director of global policy and advocacy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told CNBC in a interview on Wednesday. .

“We know that it typically takes decades for a vaccine to be developed and used for the first time in rich countries and then reach the poorest people in the world. So for Ghana to receive its first shipment, just three months after the first vaccine deployments in the world, it is more than exceptional, “he said. “It is by far the fastest in history.”

A healthcare worker applies a Sinovac coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to an elderly man in Sao Goncalo, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on February 18, 2021.

Ricardo Moraes | Reuters

The Gates Foundation has spent $ 1.75 billion in efforts to counter the coronavirus and has focused its efforts on vaccine development within COVAX.

Damluji noted that the procurement of vaccines for the poor countries program has been funded entirely by donors at a time when all economies in the developed world are in recession. “So it’s quite remarkable,” he said.

Vaccine inequality will plunge countries into deeper poverty

The exclusion of poor countries from vaccination programs being implemented in richer nations will have devastating and long-lasting consequences, warn economists and public health experts, dramatically increasing inequalities, hampering social and economic development, and leaving people behind. many countries with significantly higher debt.

These inequalities mean that the long-term economic damage from the pandemic will be twice as severe in emerging markets as in developed ones, according to Oxford Economics. And a study by RAND Corporation predicts that the global economy will lose $ 153 billion a year in production if emerging countries do not gain access to vaccines.

The countries in the COVAX donation plan are prepared to receive doses proportional to their populations: Afghanistan will receive 3 million doses, for example, while Namibia will receive just under 130,000.

The Palestinian territories expect to receive vaccines through COVAX in March; Iran and Iraq are also part of COVAX, as are many low-income countries in the Middle East. The wealthiest Gulf states have purchased their own vaccine shipments directly from manufacturers, while some are also contributing to the COVAX pool of donations despite suffering their own recessions: Saudi Arabia has contributed $ 300 million and Qatar has donated $ 10 million.

The United States had not contributed to the installation of COVAX under the Trump administration, but the Biden administration promised the largest donation yet: $ 4 billion.

Damluji pointed out the challenges of COVAX’s goals, running expansive vaccination campaigns in countries with faulty infrastructure, limited logistics and transportation options, remote populations, and in some cases violence and war.

“This is a moving target. Rightly so, the world’s attention is on this and they want to make sure it goes well,” he said. “But a couple of months ago, we didn’t even know what vaccines would work. And now people need them at their doorstep.”

“There will be some complications that will also arise,” he added. “It is the largest health acquisition effort ever.”


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