Health

New COVID vaccine reaches rich countries sooner than poor ones | World

NEW DELHI (AP) — The company behind the COVID-19 vaccine billed as a key tool for the developing world has shipped tens of millions of doses to wealthy countries but has yet to contribute any to the program it supports. by the United Nations to supply the poorest, an indication of the inequality that persists in the global response to the pandemic.

COVAX had planned to distribute 250 million doses of the Novavax formula by March, but the UN agency in charge of deliveries says the first shipments could be in April or May.

This should not have been so. When the pandemic broke out two years ago, CEPI, one of the organizations that runs COVAX, gave Novavax $388 million to accelerate the development of its formula with the goal of making it available in poor countries.

The investment guaranteed COVAX the “right of first refusal” over the pharmaceutical company’s first doses, but the agreement applied only to plants in the Czech Republic, South Korea and Spain, said CEPI spokesman Bjorg Dystvold Nilsson.

There are other factories that are not part of the pact, and their vaccines are sent elsewhere.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has produced millions of doses of Novavax. According to the Indian Foreign Ministry and the center, more than 28.9 million were sent to the Netherlands in January and February, while Australia received around 6 million. Some nine million also arrived in Indonesia in December.

Thousands more doses were shipped from a Dutch plant to other countries in the European Union.

“For whatever reason, a vaccine that was thought to be well suited to poor countries is now going largely to rich ones,” said Zain Rizvi, a drug policy expert at the US-based advocacy group Public Citizen. “It’s tragic. that in the third year of the pandemic we are still unable to get the resources, attention and political will to fix the vaccine disparity.”

The delay is the latest setback for COVAX, which has repeatedly been plagued by supply problems and missed several dose delivery targets.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last year criticized the gulf between supplies between poor and rich countries, calling it a “catastrophic moral failure”.

The availability of the drug has recently improved in the poorest regions, but logistical problems persist.

According to data from the University of Oxford, only about 14% of the population in low-income nations have at least one dose of the vaccine. More than 680 million of those distributed by COVAX remain unmanaged or have expired, according to government data.

Even with the improved delivery, some officials were eagerly awaiting the particular Novavax-developed formula because it is easier to transport and store than others. They also hoped it would be more attractive to skeptics than AstraZeneca’s, which has run into trouble in Europe.

Countries such as Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Kiribati expected to receive doses of Novavax through COVAX in March.

Before the pandemic, Novavax was a small US drugmaker that had never brought a vaccine to market. Its formula has turned out to be highly effective, but it has a great dependence on other companies for its manufacture.

The company, struggling to ramp up production, has also delayed deliveries to other countries, including some in the EU. And COVAX must allocate 1,000 million doses.

In a statement, the Gaithersburg, Maryland, drugmaker acknowledged that it had not yet shared any doses with the Gavi vaccination alliance, which is spearheading COVAX’s efforts, but said it is ready to do so.

“We continue to work with Gavi to achieve our shared goal of ensuring global access to our protein-based vaccine where it is needed most,” Novavax said.

Gavi suggested the delay is in part because the formula didn’t receive the go-ahead from the WHO until December, saying he plans to distribute it in the future and is “in close contact with the manufacturer and hopes the supply will be free for us.” its distribution when the countries need it”.

Health officials are also concerned that the urgency to vaccinate against COVID-19 has faded, especially as many countries withdraw public health measures and the world’s attention turns to other issues.

“The rich nations have put COVID aside and the whole world is obsessed with the war in Ukraine, but COVID-19 continues to pose a serious crisis for the majority of the world’s population,” said Ritu Sharma, vice president of the organization. charitable CARE.

COVAX continues to suffer from a desperate shortage of vaccines and, based on the current rate of vaccination, the world is still “years and years” away from immunizing a sufficient percentage of the population to stop new waves of the pandemic, he added.

Other experts pointed out that it is up to public health agencies to ensure that their investments in vaccines benefit poor countries, as well as to be more transparent about failures.

“Whatever the explanation, it’s not satisfactory,” said Brook Baker, an access to medicines expert at Northeastern University. last in line.”


Cheng reported from London.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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