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Global health leaders urge governments to join Covax facility

Keystone/ EPA SANOFI

A long lineup of global health leaders, including the head of Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health, Alain Berset, urged national governments on Wednesday to join the new global vaccine pool, created by World Health Organisation (WHO) and Gavi, the vaccine alliance.

They spoke at an event on the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), just days after some 156 countries formally agreed to join the new “Covax Facility” – including some 64 high income countries.

The 27 member states of the European Union, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, were among the countries that committed to buying initial doses of a new vaccine through the landmark pool, the largest in history. But there have been notable exceptions, as well, such as China, Russia and the United States.

Speaking at the UNGA event, Berset joined other leaders to commit to the pool, emphasising the need for countries to come together to find a global resolution to fight Covid-19.

“Now, more than ever, multilateralism is the only way forward,” he said. “To overcome the pandemic, I am convinced that we need solidarity and I am convinced that we also need international cooperation in a multilateral setting with the WHO at its core.”

Why is it important? The Covax facility aims to ensure equitable vaccine distribution to the most vulnerable groups worldwide. According to a ‘Fair Share Allocation’ published by the WHO, any country buying into the pool will be able to procure vaccines for an initial three percent of its population, including health workers, people with chronic conditions and older people, and up to 20 per cent of each country’s population in a second stage. The Covax facility aims to procure and distribute two billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2021.

Speaking at the UNGA side event on Wednesday, Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said the purpose of the Covax facility is to ensure “no one is left behind.”

“We now have an exit plan that can help us avoid the indefensible outcome of only a few benefiting,” he said. “The probability of death from Covid-19 increases with increasing poverty, and we know if wealthy countries buy up the first two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines instead of making sure they're distributed in proportion to the global population, then almost twice as many people could ultimately die from Covid-19.”

The Covax agreement is intended to counter the growing threat of so-called “vaccine nationalism”, where the wealthiest countries buy up the doses of emerging Covid-19 vaccines. Instead, the agreement will ensure the first useful vaccines available are shared more equally between rich and poor countries.

Speaking at the UNGA event, Xavier Castellanos, under-secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), called the vaccine pool an opportunity “to ensure the Covid-19 vaccine will be allocated fairly and equitably, not reserved for a privileged few.”

“To end the acute phase of the pandemic, the vaccine must be available everywhere it is needed, not only where it can be afforded. None of us will be safe until we are all safe,” said Castellanos. “Ensuring fair allocation and timely delivery to all who need [a vaccine], especially the most vulnerable, is the greatest challenge that we are facing.”

Who's involved? 92 lower-income countries that qualify for development assistance will be eligible to benefit from subsidised prices that the vaccine also will offer. Not only is the participation of wealthy countries is essential to making sure the plan is financially viable, but WHO and its partners have issued an urgent call to donors, saying that they need to raise $35bn to finance vaccine procurement for poor countries - as well as needed tests and treatments.

China and Russia have not joined the alliance, nor has the United States. The Trump administration has previously said it will also not join the Covax global initiative because it involves the WHO, which the President has vowed to withdraw from by July 2021. Trump's snub of the joint global vaccine effort comes as the United States death toll surpasses 200,000 and the President delivered an explosive speech to the UN General Assembly attacking China for the pandemic.


Health Policy Watch64 high-income countries make binding commitments to buy Covid-19 vaccines from the new global facility – billions of dollars needed for low-income nations