The international vaccine-sharing facility Covax expects to receive just 1.425-billion doses of Covid-19 jabs from donors this year, a far cry from its July estimate of 2-billion, highlighting the risk facing countries that depend on it for their vaccines.

The SA government drew sharp criticism late last year for being slow to sign up to Covax, but subsequently secured millions of doses through bilateral agreements with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer/BioNTech. These bilateral agreements have delivered the lion’s share of the 13.89-million doses administered in SA so far, putting SA far ahead of many African countries that expected all their needs to be met by Covax.

SA signed deals for 31-million doses of J&J’s single shot vaccine and 20-million doses of the double-shot Pfizer vaccine through its bilateral agreements. Covax has so far allocated 2.57-million Pfizer doses and 2.4-million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine to SA, according to documents on its website.

Covax is run by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Access to Vaccines Initiative (Gavi), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. It was set up to try to ensure poorer countries were not dependent on donors, but has so far delivered less than 10% of the 2-billion doses it originally hoped to provide by the end of 2021.

Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said there were many reasons for the lower forecast for 2021, including export restrictions imposed by the Serum Institute of India, early supplies being snapped up by rich countries, delays in the regulatory approval of vaccines developed by US firm Novavax and China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals, and manufacturing problems at J&J and AstraZeneca facilities.

“This is of course bad for the whole world as we have seen the dreadful consequences that take hold when the virus is left to roam unchecked. We cannot afford further delays in having healthcare workers, the elderly and those most at risk around the world protected,” he said in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said pharmaceutical manufactures had more than enough supplies to vaccinate the world’s entire population, but the doses were not being distributed equitably. “We need those doses now, not in 2022,” she said.

“We are very concerned that some countries are talking about boosters when there isn’t a lot of evidence that vaccines are failing to protect people from severe disease at this point. Let us first prevent deaths that are entirely preventable with the vaccines we have. It is possible to vaccinate all healthcare workers by the end of September and 40% of the (world’s) population by the end of the year,” she said.

Analysis by data firm Airfinity released earlier this week found equitable redistribution of vaccine doses could be stepped up, as manufacturing output has steadily increased and now stands at 1.5-billion doses a month.

It found that even if governments in rich countries expanded coverage to teenagers and gave booster shots to vulnerable groups, there would still be 1.2-billion doses available for redistribution this year alone, and it would be possible to vaccinate the whole adult population by June 2022.



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