That global mechanism was co-founded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to new COVID-19 tools; those groups are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF in that respect.
AstraZeneca said the supply of its COVID-19 vaccine to 142 countries, under that initiative, is in motion, as the company looks to ensure broad and equitable access to the jab.
“First COVAX shipments were dispatched late last week to Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, and more are due to begin arriving this week in countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Mongolia and Moldova. This supply represents the first COVID-19 vaccine for many of these countries.”
Further shipments will arrive in the coming weeks with the aim of supplying a total of 142 countries with hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine in the coming months, said the pharma giant.
The majority of these doses, manufactured by AstraZeneca and its license partner, the Serum Institute of India (SII), will go to low and middle-income countries.
The supply of the Anglo-Swedish company's vaccine through COVAX follows its recent Emergency Use Listing by the WHO for active immunization in individuals 18 years of age and older. That WHO authorization covers two applications: one for the vaccine known as ‘COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca’ manufactured by AstraZeneca, and one for ‘COVISHIELD’ manufactured by the SII. The EUL includes individuals over the age of 65.
The AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (two-eight degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings, making it better suited to distribution in countries with limited infrastructure than other vaccines which require freezer or ultra-low storage.
Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said: “Global, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is only possible when the public and private sectors work together. When we launched the Gavi COVAX advance market commitment in June 2020, our first agreement was with AstraZeneca. Nine months later, the first doses are already being delivered to those that need them most. This is the beginning of COVAX’s effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic.”
Vaccine shipments have been allocated according to the COVAX Allocation Framework which determines volume per participating country based on a number of factors, including country readiness, national regulatory authorizations, and national vaccination plans in place.
Scaling up production
To date, COVAX has had a slow roll-out.
Last week, following the start of the vaccination campaigns in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged rich countries to ensure that vaccines are shared equitably: “We have made progress. But that progress is fragile. We need to accelerate the supply and distribution of vaccines, and we cannot do that if some countries continue to approach manufacturers who are producing vaccines that COVAX is counting on.”
He said such actions undermine COVAX and deprive health workers and vulnerable people around the world of life-saving vaccines.
“Now is the time to use every tool to scale up production, including licensing and technology transfer, and where necessary, intellectual property waivers. If not now, then when?
“I understand full well that all governments have an obligation to protect their own people. But the best way to do that is by suppressing the virus everywhere at the same time.”
He also noted that while vaccines are a very powerful tool, they’re not the only tool: “We still need to accelerate the distribution of rapid diagnostics, oxygen and dexamethasone.”