A shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the global COVAX vaccination program will arrive at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana on February 24, 2021.
Nipah Dennis | AFP | Getty Images
The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines, delivered under the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, arrived in Ghana on Wednesday. This marks a hopeful turning point for developing countries, who may be lagging behind in the global race to get vaccinations against a virus that has killed nearly 2.5 million people worldwide.
The flight brought 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is believed to be far easier to distribute in developing countries because it does not require extremely cold storage temperatures like the Pfizer-GenTech and Moderna vaccines.
The vaccines delivered on Wednesday will be prioritized for frontline medical professionals, people over 60 and people with pre-existing health conditions, according to the Ghanaian Ministry of Information.
“Today is the historic moment for which we have planned and worked so hard,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a joint statement from her agency and WHO Ghana.
“With the first shipment of cans, we can deliver on the promise of the COVAX Facility to ensure that people from less affluent countries are not left behind in the race for life-saving vaccines.”
Airport workers transport a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from Covax’s global Covid-19 vaccination program onto dolls at Kotoka International Airport in Accra on February 24, 2021.
Nipah Dennis | AFP | Getty Images
COVAX is a global plan jointly led by WHO, an international vaccine alliance called Gavi, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
While wealthier nations drive costly vaccine development and procurement, poorer countries suffer the consequences of inequality. Mark Suzman, executive director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in December that it may be too late for vaccines to be distributed fairly as rich countries have already closed massive deals.
Wealthy nations, making up just 14% of the world’s population, had secured 53% of the world’s top performing coronavirus vaccines by December, according to a group of human rights activists called the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
COVAX was founded to ensure fair access to vaccines worldwide. By the end of 2021, 20% of the people in the 92 poorest countries in the world are to be vaccinated through donations. Several other middle-income countries will purchase vaccines through COVAX on a self-funded basis. The plan this year is to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccines that WHO have recognized as safe and effective.
The recordings shipped to Ghana were made by the Indian Serum Institute, which has been given access to the intellectual property that allows it to manufacture vaccines based on the Oxford-AstraZeneca formula. The African Union has secured around 670 million doses of the Serum Institute’s vaccine for its member countries. The goal is for 60% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people to be vaccinated in the next two to three years.
“By far the fastest of all time”
“This is amazingly important. We want the gap between vaccinating the rich and the poor to be narrowed to zero,” Hassan Damluji, assistant director of global politics and advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told CNBC in an interview Wednesday .
“We know that it usually takes decades for a vaccine to be developed and used for the first time in rich countries and then to reach the poorest people in the world. So Ghana receives its first shipment, just three months after the first vaccine rollouts World are more than extraordinary, “he said. “It is by far the fastest ever.”
A health worker applies a Sinovac CoronaVac Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccine to an elderly Citzen on February 18, 2021 in Sao Goncalo, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Ricardo Moraes | Reuters
The Gates Foundation has spent $ 1.75 billion fighting the coronavirus and has focused on vaccine development within COVAX.
Damluji noted that the program’s vaccine sourcing for poor countries was funded entirely by donors at a time when every developed world economy is in recession. “So it’s pretty remarkable,” he said.
Vaccine inequality will plunge countries into deeper poverty
The exclusion of poor countries from vaccination programs introduced in wealthier countries will have devastating and lasting consequences, warn economists and public health experts that dramatically increase inequalities, hinder social and economic development and leave dozens of countries in significantly more debt.
These inequalities, according to Oxford Economics, mean that the long-term economic damage of the pandemic will be twice as severe in emerging markets as it is in developed countries. A study by the RAND Corporation predicts the global economy will lose $ 153 billion in production annually if emerging economies do not get access to vaccines.
The countries of the COVAX donation plan are to receive doses that are appropriate for their population: Afghanistan, for example, will receive 3 million doses, while Namibia will receive just under 130,000.
The Palestinian Territories expect to receive vaccines through COVAX in March. Iran and Iraq are part of COVAX, as are many lower-income countries in the Middle East. Wealthier Gulf states have sourced their own vaccine supplies directly from manufacturers, while some, despite their own recessions, also contribute to the COVAX donation pool: Saudi Arabia donated $ 300 million and Qatar donated $ 10 million.
The U.S. hadn’t made a contribution to the COVAX facility under the Trump administration, but the Biden administration has pledged its largest donation to date – $ 4 billion.
Damluji pointed out the challenges of COVAX’s goals by running extensive vaccination campaigns in countries with faulty infrastructure, limited logistics and transportation, remote populations, and in some cases violence and war.
“This stuff is a moving target. Rightly the world’s attention is on it and wants to make sure it goes well,” he said. “But a few months ago we didn’t even know which vaccines would work. And now people need them on their doorstep.”
“There will be some complications as well,” he added. “It’s the biggest health procurement effort ever.”