Top officials from the United Nations, the World Bank and the Gavi Vaccine Alliance have urged rich countries to donate excess COVID-19 vaccine doses to an international effort to supply low- and middle-income countries.
At Thursday’s virtual event hosted by Gavi to boost support for the COVAX equitable vaccine sharing initiative, the officials also appealed for another $2bn by June for the programme, which is aiming to buy up to 1.8 billion doses in 2021.
So far, COVAX has shipped more than 38 million vaccine doses to 111 countries.
“Global supply is incredibly tight right now. But we also know that many high-income countries have ordered more vaccines than they need,” said Gavi Chief Executive Seth Berkley.
He urged them to share excess doses “as soon as possible to cover the high-risk populations during this supply-constrained period”.
As countries in the rich world have raced ahead with their vaccination rollouts, some low- and middle-income countries have yet to administer a single shot. If the current trajectory were to continue, it could take some countries years to inoculate their populations.
Experts have warned that if the virus is allowed to circulate unabated in some parts of the world, there are more chances for it to mutate into new variants, which could potentially make vaccines less effective or lead to increased deaths.
NZ to donate hundreds of thousands of doses
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a donation of enough vaccine doses for more than 800,000 people to COVAX, which is run by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden all pledged new funds to COVAX on Thursday.
“Many countries now have dollars available to spend on doses, but rapid deliveries aren’t available. I would like to underline here the importance for countries that have the prospect of excess vaccine supplies to release them as soon as possible,” said World Bank President David Malpass.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said some countries that had signed up to COVAX had not received any doses, none had received enough and some were not receiving their second-round vaccine allocations on time.
“There remains a shocking and expanding disparity in the global distribution of vaccines,” he warned.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore called on wealthier countries to invest generously in COVAX and donate surplus doses because it was the only way to end the pandemic and get “the global economy back on track”.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said another $22bn was needed for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which includes COVAX and also supports treatments and testing.
“These numbers may seem high, but they are small compared to the global economic loss if this crisis continues. The new virus strains make it clear that we need to move faster,” she said.
On Wednesday, a group of more than 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates called on United States President Joe Biden to make COVID-19 vaccines more readily available by waiving US intellectual property rules.
In an open letter shared by Oxfam, the signatories also urged Biden to support a proposal spearheaded by South Africa and India demanding the World Trade Organization (WTO) temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents, in order to boost global production and supply of vaccines.