World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva, Switzerland, January 22 2020. Picture: CHRISTOPHER BLACK/WHO/REUTERS
World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva, Switzerland, January 22 2020. Picture: CHRISTOPHER BLACK/WHO/REUTERS

The government has expressed interest in participating in the international Covax financing initiative for Covid-19 vaccines, which aims to accelerate the development of promising technologies and fairly distribute them around the world.

Covax is jointly led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Global Access to Vaccines Initiative (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

“We have indicated our willingness to participate but no agreements have been signed yet,” health minister Zweli Mkhize’s spokesperson, Lwazi Manzi, said on Tuesday, as the WHO renewed its call on member states to commit to Covax.

WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said planning at the highest level was needed to prepare to vaccinate the world.

“As we accelerate the science, solidarity is needed to provide a joint solution to the pandemic. The Covax Global Vaccines Facility is the critical mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines, which is why today I sent a letter to every member state encouraging them to join,” he said in a briefing from Geneva.

The WHO’s push for countries to sign up to Covax comes as a growing number of wealthy nations and the EU strike advance purchasing deals with companies developing potential vaccines, developments it fears would put national interests ahead of global efforts to combat Covid-19.

The WHO has set an August 31 deadline for finalising the terms of Covax, which plans to invest in about a dozen different experimental vaccines and ensure swift, equitable access once they are proved safe and effective. Pooling funding to support the development of multiple vaccine candidates will help rich countries spread their bets, while ensuring poorer countries receive a share of the shots once they are licensed. Gavi director Seth Berkley has previously said the aim is to have two-billion doses ready for distribution by the end of 2021.

The WHO is leading work on a global allocation framework that will see the vaccines supported by Covax rolled out simultaneously around the world, prioritising high-risk groups and front-line healthcare workers, said WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward. Targeting the world’s most vulnerable people and health workers was the best way to reduce severe illness and death, stabilise health services, and hasten economic recovery, he said.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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