The second batch of Corona vaccines will also go to West Africa. This is expected on Friday in Ivory Coast, where they will also put their first injection after the weekend.
Covax has asked the United Nations children’s rights organization UNICEF to work with local authorities to launch vaccination programs in 92 low-income countries around the world. “We are the largest buyer of vaccines in the world,” says Sabine de Jong of UNICEF in the Netherlands. “Every year we actually distribute 2 billion vaccines against polio and measles, among other things.”
This gives UNICEF the expertise and network to distribute coronavirus vaccines. The organization helps train health care providers and design vaccination information campaigns. De Jong: “Vaccination with the same Corona vaccine is done in existing health centers. Where this is not possible, we deploy mobile teams. They have already delivered polio and measles vaccines in cold boxes over mountains and suspension bridges to reach everyone.”
Logistics is ready
According to De Jong, the fact that the first Covax vaccines will go to two African countries this week has something to do with the logistics in those two countries. Ghana and Ivory Coast have also indicated that they need help quickly.
In principle, the Covax program was aimed at creating equal access to vaccines worldwide. All participating countries, rich and poor, could get larger quantities of vaccines faster and cheaper if bought en masse through Covax. In practice, however, wealthy Western countries have chosen to buy on their own initiative. They have also started stockpiling vaccines, which means Covax has to compete against these countries in a race for vaccines.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that wealthier countries are standing in the way of Kovacs by signing contracts with medicines that undermine their agreements with Kovacs. “It’s not about charity. If we don’t end the epidemic everywhere, it won’t end anywhere.”
The inequality that should have been prevented by Kovacs initiative is very clear. To date, more than 210 million vaccines have been given worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Eighty percent of it was distributed in only ten countries.
Meanwhile, Covax remains the only hope for vaccines to reach many poor countries. Covax’s goal is to vaccinate 3 percent of the population in participating countries over the next six months. A percentage that few rich countries have already reached or will soon. The Covax program aims to deliver 2.3 billion doses by the end of the year, which could vaccinate 20 percent of the population.
“This does not mean that we are vaccinating 20 percent of the population in every country,” explains De Jong of UNICEF. “First we vaccinate the health care providers and the most vulnerable in society. If a country has more healthcare providers, they will receive more vaccinations.”
However, it is hardly sufficient for so-called collective immunity. This may take years in non-western countries.
Half for Africa
46 of the 92 low-income countries now receiving free vaccines through Covax are on the African continent. The African Union is also in the process of purchasing vaccines for member states and is said to have obtained 670 million, including 270 million, for this year. They also hope to be able to launch vaccination programs in the coming weeks.
A number of African countries have already started vaccinating outside of Covax. South Africa got its first vaccine with Janssen last week, and Zimbabwe did so this week with Chinese Sinopharm.