A key partner of Covax, the organization that has led efforts to bring Covid vaccines to poor and middle-income countries, will stop supplying the vaccines to much of the world’s population over the coming year and will not provide them only to lower-income countries.
The board of governors of Gavi, the nonprofit that provides vaccines to developing countries, voted Thursday at a meeting in Geneva to end Covax’s support to 37 countries, including Egypt and Egypt. Indonesia, where hundreds of thousands of people have died from coronavirus.
Fifty-four other nations, including some of the world’s poorest nations, will continue to receive free Covid vaccines and funds to help deliver them – if they wish – until 2025.
The move reflects the fact that demand for Covid vaccines has plummeted around the world and Gavi has found itself overcommitted to purchasing vaccines when countries don’t want them. Ongoing vaccination efforts should focus on high-risk groups, including the elderly and immunocompromised.
Covax has delivered 1.7 billion Covid vaccines to people in developing countries, under difficult circumstances, but falls far short of its goal of ensuring equitable access to vaccines worldwide. The effort was hampered initially by high-income countries blocking initial vaccine supplies, then by erratic supply flows and weak delivery systems.
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Today, vaccination rates in countries served by Covax average 52% of the population receiving the initial Covid inoculation. But the figure for sub-Saharan Africa is only 26%. Delivery of booster doses has stalled in developing countries and Covid cases are rising globally.
“It is alarming that this decision was taken while the pandemic is still ongoing and without extensive consultation with these countries,” said Kate Elder, senior vaccine policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign. .
But Dr Anthony Mounts, director of the Covid vaccine introduction program at the Task Force for Global Health, a non-profit organization that has supported the delivery of Covid vaccination in 37 developing countries, said the decision seemed inevitable in the face of generalization. lack of interest in the Covid vaccines he had seen. The World Health Organization estimates that 90% of the world’s population is now immune to Covid-19, following vaccination or previous infection.
“Despite all the challenges Covax has faced, I think just having a coordination mechanism has been extremely helpful,” Dr Mounts said. “But it’s time to change our direction and really focus on high-risk groups and what we can do to protect them.”
The 37 countries for which support is ending will receive a one-time payment, which the council has called “catalytic”, to set up their own Covid vaccination programs.
The other 54 are countries that received Gavi support for routine immunization before the pandemic. If these countries choose to continue Covid campaigns, Gavi will integrate Covid injections into the regular support it offers, ending the emergency programme.
“We are as committed as we have been from day one to helping countries achieve their national goals and supporting the most vulnerable,” said Aurelia Nguyen, Gavi’s Head of Programming and Strategy. “At the same time, we need to plan for any worst-case scenarios and find ways to gain efficiency for countries” by adding Covid-19 injections to regular vaccination schedules.
The World Health Organization, another Covax partner, continues to maintain the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population in each country. The WHO did not respond to a request for comment on the Gavi board’s decision.
Gavi, using funds from wealthy countries, negotiates purchases with vaccine manufacturers on Covax’s behalf, and also funnels money to countries to help deliver the vaccines. The agency has also received millions of vaccine doses in donations, the tide of which has surged as high-income countries – which have seen their own immunization programs falter – seek to offload their oversupply.
Budget documents presented to the Gavi board show that the organization had to renegotiate its vaccine contracts to avoid having to buy hundreds of millions of doses, and that countries were slow to use the funds given to them. granted to administer the vaccines.
Gavi’s board has asked the organization’s staff to update donors in early 2023 on how they suggest using the money currently in the pool to purchase vaccines. He also gave broad endorsement to a plan for Gavi to create a $1.5 billion pandemic preparedness pool.
At the meeting, Gavi Governors recommitted the organization to trying to catch up with a critical drop in routine childhood immunizations that occurred during the Covid pandemic and led to resurgences of diseases such as polio and measles.
Additionally, the Gavi board voted to restart a vaccination campaign against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, with an investment of $600 million, with the aim of trying to reach 86 million. girls by 2025 with the vaccine, which aims to prevent cervical cancer.
And, going forward, Gavi will invest in efforts to expand vaccine manufacturing in Africa, as part of an effort to prevent the kind of disparity seen at the start of the Covid pandemic when vaccine nationalism left the continent without access to vaccines.
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