Starting mid-March 2021, India has become the epicenter of COVID-19 as a second wave of infections devastated the country. India reported 50 percent of global cases and 30 percent of global COVID-19 deaths, and an alarming rate of over 400,000 daily new cases at the height of the wave in early May 2021.
Launched as a global cross-organization collaboration only one month after the pandemic was declared, COVAX was built to facilitate global equity in the pandemic response. As COVAX passes the one-year mark this month, there are some early lessons and insights that can inform its further development and help us prepare for future crises.
There were two significant developments this week that are great news for Covid-19 vaccine equity. To be clear, the picture is still bleak: rich countries hold more than half of the vaccine purchased and don’t want to share until they’ve had their fill.
The COVAX partnership released last week its first estimates of dose allocations for participating countries, covering planned deliveries from February through June. These are labeled as “indicative,” meaning the estimates are non-binding and subject to a list of caveats provided in both the distribution forecast and the supply update released in January. In fact, the language surrounding both documents seems on balance to contain more hedging than forecasting.
AstraZeneca recently alerted the EU that it would only be able to deliver 25% of the 80-100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine expected this quarter, due to production problems in the European plants. Under new export controls, EU member states can now block exports of Covid-19 vaccines if they believe that the vaccine producers are in danger of not meeting their supply contracts with the EU.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, newly named the US Chief Medical Advisor, warmly addressed the WHO executive board within the first 24 hours of the Biden administration. Dr. Fauci confirmed that under President Joe Biden, the US will rejoin the WHO and will also join COVAX, the global mechanism designed to ensure equitable allocation of vaccines across the world.
This past week, we saw the first direct vaccine purchases made for low-income countries with the
African Union’s purchase of 270 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, OxfordAstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Though it is a relatively modest purchase, it represents a significant shift in the global power dynamics of the Covid-19 response.