Can COVAX ensure equitable access to the covid-19 vaccine for developing countries?

Zoe Dean

A Pandemic knows no borders: the danger of Vaccine Nationalism

At the beginning of 2020, most of the world fought to control the rise of Covid-19 infections. It quickly became apparent that the only way to end the pandemic was to produce a vaccine and inoculate most of the world’s population. To distribute a vaccine to billions of people presented itself as a monumental task, not only in terms of scientific ingenuity and logistics but also in terms of equity. 

With politics rarely functioning beyond national self-interest there was growing concern that ‘Vaccine Nationalism’ would enable richer countries to acquire a greater share of vaccine doses. Through substantially investing in trials, richer countries could afford to commandeer a large proportion of doses whilst poorer countries would find themselves out-competed.

Nationalist behaviour in the face of a pandemic is illogical. In the first instance, it would further enshrine inequality between developed and developing countries. Furthermore, it will also prevent any nation from returning to complete ‘normality’ with no one being safe from Covid-19 until all are safe under a global herd immunity.

COVAX – facilitating a united response to COVID-19 

COVAX was launched in April to counteract this potential of ‘Vaccine Nationalism’. This mechanism, coordinated by WHO in partnership with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and many others aim to provide ‘Innovative and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.’

The mechanism itself facilitates the pooling of funds which then invests in the creation of the world’s largest portfolios of potential Covid-19 vaccines’. Wealthier countries benefit by investing in an increased chance of obtaining enough doses for their populations. Less wealthy countries and countries who cannot obtain bilateral agreements with manufacturers, gain equal access to a vaccine.  

COVAX is creating a system for vaccine equity in two key ways. Firstly, it ensures that vaccine doses will be available to all participating countries at the same time by committing half of its projected 2 billion doses to the 92 poorest economies by the end of 2021. 

Secondly, it guarantees that funded countries can vaccinate 20% of their populations with no further vaccines distributed until all countries have vaccinated 20% respectively.

COVAX hopes to disrupt countries being able to monopolize on immunity there is a greater chance of equity not only in terms of vaccinations but also in terms of economic growth and recovery.

Securing funding from large world economies.

For COVAX to have the sweeping impact needed to end the pandemic; it requires substantial commitment and investments from governments. Its fundraising target of US$2 billion by the end of 2020 still needs at least an additional $US 1 billion to continue to develop towards equitable vaccinations.

At first, many of the world’s dominant economies were reluctant to invest in COVAX. This was a major obstacle to COVAX, yet it has had success in recent months with larger economies joining or increasing investments, most notably China, which signed up in October.

Currently, the US remains outside COVAX membership even as Biden has quickly moved to re-join WHO after Trump announced US withdrawal, Biden has yet to announce any commitment to COVAX. Whether the world’s largest economy will contribute to the initiative to vaccine equality remains to be seen.


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