How to save the COVAX vaccine program for low-income countries from failing

April 13, 2021: Dr Deborah Gleeson explains in a new article in The Conversation why the one plan for a fair global vaccine distribution is in trouble, and what can be done to recover it.

COVAX is the plan, and it is jointly run by GAVI the vaccine alliance, CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). COVAX aims to vaccinate 20 per cent of the populations of 92 low-income countries by the end of 2021. By April 11, it had shipped only 38.5 million doses, but the target was 100 million doses by the end of March.

Overall, only 0.2 per cent of the 700 million vaccine doses administered globally have been given in low-income countries, whereas 87 per cent have been received by people in high-income and upper middle-income countries. By April 4, only one in 500 people in low-income countries have so far received a vaccine.

What is needed most is a dramatic boost the global supply of vaccines to ensure there’s enough to go around.

This first requirement is to remove the intellectual property protections that allow vaccine developers to hold exclusive rights to control who can make and sell them. Australia and other rich countries have to stop blocking this proposal by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation.

Secondly, governments need to support mechanisms for sharing intellectual property, such as the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).

Finally, governments need to invest money to build up manufacturing capacities in these low- and middle-income countries and facilitating technology transfers from companies based in high-income countries.

Rich countries need to step up. And fast.