COVAX Vaccine Plan Not Transparent: WHO Board Member

Many of the Covid-19 vaccine candidates need to be kept cold from factory-to-patient.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 — The COVAX global Covid-19 vaccine access plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is not transparent on how it will work, a WHO executive board member said.

Clemens Auer claimed that WHO never consulted countries about its proposed vaccine strategy and said WHO’s goal of vaccinating the world’s most vulnerable people before anyone else is a “noble notion”, but politically naive, AP reported.

Auer, who was the European Union’s lead negotiator for its vaccine deals said: “We would have no say over the vaccines, the price, the quality, the technical platform or the risks. This is totally unacceptable.”

COVAX — coordinated by international vaccine alliance, Gavi; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) and WHO — is a facility that will support the research, development, and manufacturing of a wide range of Covid-19 vaccine candidates. This includes price negotiations.

A total of 172 countries have engaged in this pooled procurement mechanism for a Covid-19 vaccine whereby, 80 higher-income countries will finance the vaccine from their own national budgets, while the remaining 92 low-and middle-income countries will receive financial support to access the vaccine. COVAX aims to buy two billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2021.

However, countries like China, the United States, and Russia do not intend to join COVAX, which is one of the biggest obstacles the COVAX facility is facing. The Trump administration said that it has decided to go it alone in procuring a vaccine and does not want to be constrained by multilateral groups like WHO.

A global health law professor at Georgetown University said that COVAX will not have the financing and political muscle to assure global equity with major countries like the US and China sitting on sidelines, Business Insider reported.

Many rich countries have directly bought vaccines from manufacturers, which means they control the majority of vaccine supply for 2021. The US has made an agreement with pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc to acquire 100 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, while although the European Union has contributed 400 million euros (RM1.95 billion) to the COVAX facility, it has also signed its own deals to buy more than one billion doses of vaccines.

This deprives COVAX from a bulk negotiating power in procurement of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to AP.

GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley has recently urged more countries to join the COVAX Facility.

“We need to secure US$2 billion (RM8.32 billion) for advance market commitment by December to ensure reservation of Covid-19 vaccine doses for 92 low-income countries and at least another US$5 billion (RM20.765 billion) to secure these in 2021,” Berkley said.

WHO and GAVI, with the goal of vaccinating 20 per cent of the world’s population, have also asked countries to first prioritise frontline health workers, and then the elderly.

According to internal documents from GAVI, as cited by AP, many of the vaccine candidates need to be kept cold from factory-to-patient, which is an expensive hurdle, hence a significant and urgent ramp-up of cold chain capacity may be needed.

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