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The international Covax program, which is supposed to guarantee a fair supply of the vaccine for all nations, is paying the price for the crisis in India, its main supplier, which has blocked its exports. Another setback for this program which has struggled to impose itself since its creation in 2020.
In the grip of an explosion of Covid-19 cases, India has become the epicenter of the pandemic in a matter of weeks. The country, which now records more than 3,000 daily deaths and has nearly 20 million cases, decided to expand, Saturday 1er May, immunization to its entire population.
For several weeks, the country has also blocked the export of doses abroad – a decision with serious consequences, since India is the first supplier of the international Covax program, the aim of which is to guarantee equitable access to vaccines to poor countries. A new blow for this initiative which has accumulated delays since its creation.
Lack of solidarity
Set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) partnership, the Covax system was created to facilitate vaccine access to 200 countries across the country. world, including 92 “low and middle income” states that must obtain doses free of charge.
While the WHO estimates that $ 7 billion is needed to complete the project, the initiative, funded by 191 countries as well as private organizations, only manages to raise $ 2 billion in 2020.
The program is behind schedule and the first doses were not sent until the end of February 2021, to Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
In early April, the WHO sounded the alarm: 38 million doses were delivered while the project aimed to reach 100 million at the end of March. If the routing process is in place, then the program faces a significant dose shortage.
The director of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has already, on several occasions, called on the rich countries to be more involved in this solidarity program, is issuing a new warning.
“We understand that some countries and companies may want to donate vaccines without going through Covax for political and commercial reasons of their own. But these bilateral arrangements risk accentuating vaccine inequalities,” he said.
In addition to its difficulties in bringing together the players, Covax also faces major logistical problems. Because the program relied heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine, less expensive than its competitors Pfizer / BioNTech or Moderna, and which has the advantage of being able to be stored in simple refrigerators and not at very low temperatures. Observing an efficiency of 63.09% and judging that it “is suitable for low- and middle-income countries because of its ease of storage”, the WHO grants it an emergency authorization on February 15, in order, in particular, to ‘deliver hundreds of thousands of doses through Covax.
The majority of these vaccines are produced by the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine producers, which has pledged to provide 1 billion doses to Covax. But on March 24, as the pandemic rises sharply in India, the government announces the suspension of AstraZeneca exports. A temporary measure, which the authorities have announced will impact deliveries until the end of April.
A month later, the report is bitter: the WHO announces that the deliveries of 90 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines produced by India, which were scheduled for March and April in 60 countries, could not take place.
As the world mobilizes to come to the aid of disaster-stricken India, lifting the embargo on the export of domestically produced vaccines does not appear to be on the agenda for months to come. . “We are awaiting the resumption of deliveries,” said the executive director of the Alliance for vaccines, Seth Berkley, on April 26 at a press conference.
While the Covax players have entered into discussions with other countries to receive donated doses, the WHO granted, on April 30, 2021, an emergency authorization for the Moderna vaccine, paving the way for the use of this vaccine within the program for poor countries.
So far, 118 countries and territories have received more than 40.8 million doses via Covax. A drop of water, compared to the 2 billion doses that the program aims to finance and secure in 2021.