Vaccines are a key part of the solution to ending it COVID-19 pandemic and, since the early stages of the crisis, the World Health Organization (who) has argued that there should be coordinated attention to ensure that everyone, not just people living in rich countries, gets proper protection from the virus, as it has spread rapidly around the world.
From this concern grew Global Ease of COVAX, the only global initiative working with governments and manufacturers to provide COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide for both high – income and low – income countries.
Here are five things to know about the challenges you face COVAX, and how they can be overcome.
UNICEF / Adrian Musinguzi
1) Export controls: the weakest link?
Early in the pandemic, UNICEF built a reserve of half a billion syringes in warehouses outside the countries that produce them. Its forecast paid off: countries put export controls on syringes, prices soared and supplies were limited.
Some countries also imposed export controls on vaccines, prompting the WHO to warn against vaccine nationalism, which encourages the collection and has the effect of raising prices and ultimately prolonging the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.
Taking doses in people’s arms requires a complex global supply chain. From the ingredients needed to make the vaccine, to glassware and plastic tubes and tubes, to syringes. Because of this, export bans or controls on any of these products can cause major disruptions in the spread of vaccines.
Because of the many ways in which export controls can restrict supply, poor countries will have a much better chance of protecting their citizens if they are able to produce their own vaccines.
WHO supports countries in their efforts to acquire and support vaccine technology and production capacity, says Diane Abad-Vergara, head of COVAX communications for the agency, through initiatives such as the Vaccine Manufacturers Network of Developing Countries and helps they build additional production bases especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which will be essential to meet the ongoing demand for COVID-19 booster shots and future vaccines. Expanding global production would make poor countries less dependent on donations from rich countries.
UNICEF / Henry Bongyereirwe
2) Getting vaccines for those in need is not easy
While all countries that are part of COVAX have the necessary infrastructure to receive vaccine pallets from cargo planes and refrigerated depots, the next steps can be more complicated.
Ghana, the first country to receive COVAX doses, has had a good record of dose distribution, says Gian Gandhi, UNICEF’s global COVAX coordinator, but other countries, such as those in Francophone West Africa, have had difficulty gathering the resources needed to split doses and distribute them throughout their territory to towns and villages where they are needed. This means that, in many poor countries, most doses are being distributed in large urban centers.
We want to make sure no one gets lost, says Mr Gandhi, but, in the short term, concentrating doses in cities at least means vaccinating health and other front-line workers in urban areas, where higher population density puts them at a higher risk of exposure, they are being given priority.
3) More funds are needed to help distribute to poorer countries
One way to speed up the spread of vaccines, and the delivery from urban depots to remote areas is, simply, cash. Funding is a perennial concern, even in the pandemic response, says Ms. Abad-Vergara. To continue providing vaccines to its 190 members, COVAX needs at least $ 3.2 billion in 2021. The sooner this funding target is achieved, the sooner vaccines can be introduced into people’s arms.
Contributions from several countries, particularly the EU, UK and US have come a long way in closing the vaccine funding gap. However, funding for the distribution of those vaccines is more problematic.
UNICEF estimates that an additional $ 2 billion is needed to help 92 poor countries pay for basic necessities such as refrigerators, health care workers, vaccine and refrigerated fuel, and is urging donors to make $ 510 million of this immediately available as part of a humanitarian call to address urgent needs.
UNICEF / Khasar Sandag
4) The richest countries should share
COVAX is finding itself in competition with individual countries by making direct deals with pharmaceutical companies, putting additional pressure on the available supply of COVID-19 vaccines. At the same time, richer countries may find themselves with an oversupply of doses.
The current first approach I will finally cost more, in terms of Diane Abad-Vergara’s life, COVAX focal point of communication, WHO
We were urging these countries to share their overdoses and engage with COVAX and UNICEF as soon as possible, says Mr Gandhi, because it will take some legal, administrative and operational gymnastics to get them there. where necessary. Unfortunately, we were not currently seeing many high-income countries willing to share.
The current approach favors those who can pay more and will ultimately cost more financially and in terms of life, warns Ms. Abad-Vergara. But it is important to note that bilateral agreements do not prohibit a country from taking doses or contributing to COVAX, especially through dose sharing.
UNICEF / Sujay Reddy
5) Vaccine reluctance: a constant cause of concern
Despite the prevailing evidence that vaccination saves lives, vaccine reluctance, which exists in every country, is still a problem that needs to be constantly addressed.
This phenomenon is partly driven by the misinformation surrounding all aspects of COVID-19, which was a concern even before the declaration of a global health emergency and, in May, the UN launched the Verified Campaign, which fights lies and distorted messages, with reliable, accurate information about the crisis.
Throughout the pandemic there has been a great deal of misinformation circulating around, says Ms Abad-Vergara. “The WHO is working hard to combat it, as well as building trust in vaccines, and engaging different communities.
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