Covax initiative: idealism or hypocrisy?
As mass vaccination kicks off in many countries, the initiative seems to be falling short of expectations
by: Stephanie Iancu
From the moment the first trials for Covid-19 vaccines began, it was clear that the logistics behind which nations would have access to them and in what quantities would be highly complex. Developing nations feared that they would once again be left behind by wealthier nations, as the scramble for securing contracts with the largest vaccine developers started to unravel.
Covax, which stands for Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, is part of the “Access to Covid-19 Tools” (ACT) developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) together with the Global Vaccine Alliance. Its primary goal is to guarantee all nations access to Covid-19 vaccines, regardless of their wealth or negotiation power.
Image by Katja Fuhlert via Pixabay
Covax aims to support the research, development, and production of multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates, negotiate pricing and provide equal access to them to all participating countries in accordance with their population. Its initial target is to distribute 2 million doses by the end of 2021, focussing mainly on highly vulnerable citizens as well as front-line workers in the 92 poorer countries involved in the scheme. These states would have their vaccines paid for through a fund sponsored by multiple donors.
The portfolio of vaccines created to achieve this ambitious goal currently contains nine candidate vaccines, which are being developed and a further nine which are currently under evaluation.
Many countries have placed their hopes in the WHO’s Covax initiative, which promised to give poorer and middle-income states access to sufficient doses of the vaccine in order to inoculate their most vulnerable citizens. For many, it actually represents the only lifeline that will grant them access to at least part of the immunity that needs to be achieved in order to bring the pandemic to an end. However, reports show that the initiative seems to be getting off to a slow start, with many states yet to secure any vaccine deal at all.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the vaccine gap between rich and poor countries as a “catastrophic moral failure” accusing certain states of circumventing the Covax framework and pursuing independent bilateral deals, as well as driving up prices in order to gain priority over others.
It is not fair for young and healthy people in wealthier nations to get injections before vulnerable people in poorer ones
– he also told.
Mainly because many of the lower-income nations that are finding themselves at the back of the queue in terms of vaccine rollout are also those with inefficient or failing healthcare systems. This puts their citizens at great risk when infected with SARS-CoV-2 and further strengthens the high level of insecurity that has been prevailing within their societies since the beginning of the pandemic.
To add to the issue, the United States, as well as other wealthier, self-financing participants of the initiative, have been accused of stockpiling a share of the vaccines for themselves. A study by the Global Health Institute at Duke University has found that
“as of mid-January, a small group of rich countries, comprising just 16% of the world's population had purchased 60% of the global vaccine supply”.
This “me first” approach has been strongly criticized by Dr Ghebreyesus, who expressed his worry that “ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.” The international community seems to once again be falling short of the values of common humanity and global solidarity widely advocated by international institutions such as the UN and the WHO.
Many questions still surround the capacity of Covax to reach its goal of providing affordable and accessible vaccine doses to all corners of the world. Some wonder if the necessary effort in reaching such noble objectives is really being put into the initiative. Others may think, however, that this is just another conscience-clearing charade by rich nations to make it appear as if they were caring about the wellbeing of the world’s poorest citizens as that of their own.