All you need to know about WHO's global COVAX initiative
With little hope that the coronavirus pandemic is going to slow down any time soon, all eyes are on the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organization is leading an initiative, COVAX, to ensure that when the vaccine is ready, those who are at a greater risk of infection are the first to receive it. Here's all about it.
What is COVAX?
The COVAX initiative is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the WHO. It is aimed at ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the world, once the vaccines are licensed and approved. The initiative is part of a larger plan, called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
How many vaccines are included in the plan?
As of now, nine CEPI-supported candidate vaccines are included under the initiative. Further, nine other candidates are under evaluation, and procurement conversations are also underway with additional vaccine producers who are not receiving research and development (R&D) funding through COVAX at the moment. According to the WHO, COVAX has the world's "largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio."
What is the COVAX plan?
COVAX aims to accelerate the development of vaccines against COVID-19 by pooling funds from wealthier nations and guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. The initiative has set a goal of delivering two billion doses of safe and effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification by the end of 2021.
'Unprecedented challenge can only be met with unprecedented cooperation'
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, "COVID-19 is an unprecedented global health challenge that can only be met with unprecedented cooperation between governments, researchers, manufacturers, and multilateral partners." Earlier, Dr. Ghebreyesus had said that those at highest risk include healthcare professionals who are "critical to saving lives and stabilizing the overall health system."
How many countries are involved?
The initiative involves partnerships with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers. The WHO said 172 countries are currently engaged in discussions to potentially participate in COVAX. 80 potentially self-financing countries have submitted non-binding expressions of interest to the COVAX facility, but only 43 have been named publicly including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, etc.
Who will benefit from this plan?
Earlier in July, the Gavi board had agreed on 92 economies, including low income and lower-middle income countries, which will be supported by the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). India is among those eligible for support as a lower-middle income nation.