The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual vaccines targeting the coronavirus reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live.
The idea is that by pooling resources together, economies signed up to the facility can insure themselves against failed vaccine candidates as well as secure access to a successful one.
A statement released yesterday [September 21] by Gavi, the WHO and the other coordinator of COVAX, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), shows that 156 economies, representing roughly 64% of the global population in total, are now either committed to or eligible for the COVAX facility.
China and Russia have not signed up, however, and the US said previously it would not be joining the international effort due to the involvement of the WHO in the initiative.
Commenting on those countries non-engagement in the scheme, a spokesperson for Gavi told BioPharma-Reporter that the US is a long-standing supporter of global health, including Gavi. "Its ongoing support over the next five-year period will enable us to continue to protect millions of people from vaccine-preventable diseases."
While China has not yet signed-up to the COVAX facility, it has shown interest in joining, she said.
"We will never close the door on a country willing to join the COVAX facility. However, we will imminently be entering negotiations with vaccine manufacturers and developers for the doses requested through the agreements announced [on September 21]. Countries joining later may, therefore, miss out on this round of deals," added the spokesperson.
The 64 self-financing economies, including Australia, Japan, and Canada, now in the pool will be joined by 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a financing instrument aimed at supporting the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for these countries.
“COVAX is now in business: governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi.
“With the commitments we’re announcing today for the COVAX facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available,” he added.
COVAX acts as a platform that will support the research, development and manufacturing of a wide range of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, and negotiate their pricing. All participating countries, regardless of income levels, will have equal access to these vaccines once they are developed. The initial aim is to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021.
"COVID-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response," said the head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery."
He said the COVAX facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a collaboration, not a contest. "This is not charity, it's in every country's best interest. We sink or we swim together."
Three safe and effective vaccines sought
CEPI is leading the COVAX vaccine research and development work, which aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines that can be made available to participating countries.
Nine candidate vaccines are currently being supported by CEPI; eight of which are currently in clinical trials.
“We need COVID-19 vaccines that are both safe and effective, which is by no means a certainty. There are currently more than 170 candidate vaccines in development, but the vast majority of these efforts are likely to fail. Based on previous vaccine development, those at the preclinical trial stage have roughly a 7% chance of succeeding, while the ones that make it to clinical trials have about a 20% chance. To increase the chances of success, COVAX has created the world’s largest and most diverse portfolio of these vaccines,” said Berkley in a Q&A published on the Gavi website.
Thomas Cueni, director general, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA), said it was "very encouraging" to see so many countries move from talk to full commitment.
“The facility can only work, and equitable access can only be achieved, if there is solidarity between rich and poorer countries. Today vaccine makers who have the unique skills and expertise to scale up manufacturing to levels never seen before, stand ready, together, to take up the challenge of providing two billion doses of yet unknown COVID-19 vaccines. This is no mean feat, as it requires doubling existing capacity in record time," he added.
A report issued by the WHO on September 9 indicated how the COVAX scheme would distribute vaccine doses, when available. The organization estimates that an allocation of doses equal to 20% of a country’s population should be enough to vaccinate people at the highest priority.
The success of the initiative hinges on further funding, however.
Governments have already committed US$1.4 billion towards this effort, but an additional US$1bn is still needed to continue to move the portfolio forward. It is also essential that the Gavi COVAX AMC meets its fundraising target of at least US$2bn by the end of 2020.
This article was updated to include the comments from the Gavi spokesperson.