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WHO vaccination scheme at ‘very high’ risk of failure, leaving poor nations without Covid-19 shots until 2024 – report

WHO vaccination scheme at ‘very high’ risk of failure, leaving poor nations without Covid-19 shots until 2024 – report
Chances are “very high” that the global program to deliver coronavirus vaccines to poor countries will flop, forcing billions of people to wait for their shots at least until 2024, internal papers seen by Reuters have revealed.

The World Health Organization's COVAX scheme is expected to provide at least two billion vaccine doses to 91 poor and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America by the end of 2021. But it turns out that the very people behind the program don’t have full confidence that they’ll be able to fulfill the task in time.

Lack of funds, supply risks and complex contractual arrangements are the main obstacles currently faced by the scheme, according to internal documents from Gavi – an alliance of governments, drug makers, charities and international bodies, which co-leads COVAX together with the WHO – have revealed.

“The risk of a failure to establish a successful COVAX facility is very high,” read a report discussed by Gavi’s board this week, as cited by Reuters. One document out of the bunch obtained by the agency made it clear that this failure could leave the residents in poor countries without Covid-19 vaccines until 2024.

The global vaccination program was put together in a short period of time and is now operating in “uncharted territory,” the report pointed out. “Current risk exposure is deemed outside of risk appetite until there is full clarity on the size of risks and possibilities to mitigate them.” 

The scheme needs $7 billion to meet its target of vaccinating at least 20 percent of people in poor countries in 2021, but currently has only $2.1 billion. Its main sponsors are the UK and EU as well as private donors, mainly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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COVAX plans to rely on cheaper vaccines that haven’t yet been approved; and the scheme may well be derailed if the prices spike or if there are delays in supply, the documents said.

Citigroup, which Gavi hired to help mitigate the financial risks, said in a memo that another major problem for COVAX is that clauses in the supply contracts allow countries not to purchase vaccines, booked through the WHO’s program, if they find faster or cheaper ways to obtain the drugs.

The COVAX facility could also face financial losses if countries are unable to pay for the supplied vaccines or if herd immunity develops too quickly, making further shots obsolete, Citigroup said.

When asked about the documents, a Gavi spokesman told Reuters that the body remained confident in the success of the COVAX scheme. However, he added “it would be irresponsible not to assess the risks inherent to such a massive and complex undertaking, and to build policies and instruments to mitigate those risks.”

During a G20 summit in November, the leaders of the world’s largest economies acknowledged the fact that the pandemic could deepen the divide between the rich and the poor, vowing to spare no effort to supply coronavirus vaccines affordably and fairly to “all people” on the planet. They said they’ll be working to “protect lives, provide support with a special focus on the most vulnerable.”

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In order to achieve herd immunity on a global scale, the majority of the population must become immune to the viral disease through getting infected or through vaccination. Some researches say that it would require 65 to 75 percent immunized to stop the spread of Covid-19, while others put the number higher, at 80 or 90 percent.

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