The primary cargo of COVAX vaccines arrives in Ghana, hope for growing nations

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 is a hopeful turning point for developing countries, who may be lagging behind in the global race to vaccinate 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, those over 60 and those 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 Innovation in Epidemic Preparation.

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 the vaccines to be distributed fairly as rich countries have already closed massive deals.

Wealthy nations, who make up 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 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 have been recognized by WHO as safe and effective.

The recordings shipped to Ghana were produced by the Indian Serum Institute, which has been granted access to the intellectual property that enables 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 the 1.3 billion people in Africa 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,” said Hassan Damluji, assistant director of global politics and advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in an interview with Wednesday CNBC.

“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. 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 take a devastating toll, warn many economists and public health experts, which dramatically increases inequalities, hampers social and economic development and leaves many 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. And a study by RAND Corp. 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 populations: Afghanistan, for example, will receive 3 million doses, while Namibia will receive almost 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. The wealthier Gulf States have sourced their own vaccine supplies directly from the manufacturers, while some, despite their own recessions, also contribute to the COVAX fundraising 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 the largest donation to date – $ 4 billion.

Damluji pointed out the challenges of COVAX’s efforts to run nationwide vaccination campaigns in countries with faulty infrastructure, limited logistics and transportation, remote populations and, in some cases, war.

“This stuff is a moving target. Rightly the world’s attention is on it and wants to make sure it goes well. But a few months ago we didn’t even know which vaccines would work. And now people need them their doorstep. ”

“There will be some complications as well,” he added. “It’s the biggest health procurement effort ever.”

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