The global hunt for a vaccine for COVID-19 has gathered momentum with one of the leading figures behind a global initiative saying there is renewed hope that a workable vaccine could be on the horizon.
Currently 172 economies are now engaged in discussions to potentially participate in COVAX, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines once they are licensed and approved. COVAX currently has the world’s largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio – including nine candidate vaccines, with a further nine under evaluation and conversations underway with other major producers.
The news came with a plea that a vaccine cannot be developed in isolation and that once a workable vaccine is found it had to be made available to all.
COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers. It is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.
In order to be able to secure enough doses of vaccines to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as health workers and the elderly, the next step for the partnership is to confirm potential self-financing participants’ intent to participate by 31 August and to turn these into binding commitments to join the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) by 18 September.
“Equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine is the key to beating the virus and paving the way for recovery from the pandemic,” said Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden. “This cannot be a race with a few winners, and the COVAX Facility is an important part of the solution – making sure all countries can benefit from access to the world’s largest portfolio of candidates and fair and equitable distribution of vaccine doses.”
COVAX said it will ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for each participating economy, using an allocation framework currently being formulated by WHO. The COVAX Facility will do this by pooling buying power from participating economies and providing volume guarantees across a range of promising vaccine candidates, allowing those vaccine manufacturers whose expertise is essential to large scale production of the new vaccines, to make early, at-risk investments in manufacturing capacity – providing participating countries and economies with the best chance at rapid access to doses of a successful COVID-19 vaccine.
However the WHO said the success of COVAX hinges not only on countries signing up to the COVAX Facility, but also filling key funding gaps for both COVAX R&D work and a mechanism to support participation of lower-income economies in the COVAX Facility.
The goal of COVAX is by the end of 2021 to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification. These vaccines will be offered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritising healthcare workers then expanding to cover vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Further doses will then be made available based on country need, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat. The COVAX Facility will also maintain a buffer of doses for emergency and humanitarian use, including dealing with severe outbreaks before they spiral out of control.
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented global health challenge that can only be met with unprecedented cooperation between governments, researchers, manufacturers and multilateral partners,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “By pooling resources and acting in solidarity through the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, we can ensure that once a vaccine is available for COVID-19, it’s available equitably to all countries.”
“In the scramble for a vaccine, countries can act alone – creating a few winners, and many losers – or they can come together to participate in COVAX, an initiative which is built on enlightened self-interest but also equity, leaving no country behind,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI. “Only by taking a global view can we protect those most at risk around the world from the terrible effects of this disease. COVAX can deliver the vaccines that could end the pandemic, but it needs countries to step forward both to join the COVAX Facility, and also to address the serious funding shortfalls, including for R&D. The decisions that are taken now about COVID-19 vaccines have the power to change our future. We must be courageous and ambitious in striving for a multilateral solution.”
“The momentum we are witnessing behind this unprecedented global effort means there could be light at the end of the tunnel: A vaccine is our best route to ending the acute phase of the pandemic and the COVAX effort is the best way to get there,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “For higher-income countries it represents a win-win: not only will you be guaranteed access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccines, you will also be negotiating as part of a global consortium, bringing down prices and ensuring truly global access. Signing up to the COVAX Facility gives each country its best chance at protecting the most vulnerable members of their populations – which in turn gives the world its best chance at mitigating the toll this pandemic has taken on individuals, communities and the global economy. To make this end-to-end vision a reality, we need countries to make end-to-end commitments: funding R&D, signing up to the Facility, and supporting the COVAX AMC.”