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COVAX: New year, new COVID-19 vaccines

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Posted: Saturday, December 19, 2020. 4:15 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The worldwide initiative to vaccinate populations against COVID-19, known as COVAX, says it now has agreements in place to access nearly two billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates, and laid the groundwork for further doses to be secured through contributions from donors.

These agreements mean that all COVAX’s 190 participating and eligible economies will be able to access doses to protect vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. At least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses will be made available to 92 economies eligible for the Gavi COVAX AMC, targeting up to 20% population coverage by the end of the year.

The funding raised in 2020 and early pledges toward 2021 targets, alongside these agreements, offer the clearest pathway yet to ending the acute phase of the pandemic globally by the end of 2021.

The new deals announced include the signing of an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is currently being investigated as a single dose vaccine.. These deals are in addition to existing agreements COVAX has with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for 200 million doses – with options for up to 900 million doses more – of either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Novavax candidates, as well as a statement of intent for 200 million doses of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine candidate.

In addition to this, COVAX also has – through R&D partnership agreements – the first right of refusal in 2021 to access potentially more than one billion doses (based on current estimates from the manufacturing processes under development) that will be produced, subject to technical success and regulatory approval, by candidates in the COVAX R&D Portfolio.

“This commitment is evidence that the world learned an important lesson from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Our research and development efforts have begun to pay off. We now have safe and effective vaccines that can protect against COVID-19 and a clear pathway to securing 2 billion doses for the populations at greatest risk all around the world,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).  “Securing the right of first refusal of successful vaccine production as part of R&D arrangements has helped guarantee equitable access to vaccines, a founding principle of CEPI.   The challenge of delivering the vaccines that have demonstrated success, of completing the development of other promising vaccine candidates to further increase supply, and of ending the acute phase of the pandemic, lies ahead of us.”

“The arrival of vaccines is giving all of us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). “But we will only truly end the pandemic if we end it everywhere at the same time, which means it’s essential to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries. And we must remember that vaccines will complement, but not replace, the many other tools we have in our toolbox to stop transmission and save lives. We must continue to use all of them.”

COVAX currently estimates it needs to raise an additional US$ 6.8 billion in 2021 – US$ 800 million for research and development, at least US$ 4.6 billion for the COVAX AMC, and US$ 1.4 billion for delivery support.

Support for the COVAX AMC will be critical to ensuring the ability to pay is not a barrier to access. Thanks to the generous support of sovereign, private sector, and philanthropic donors, the AMC has met its urgent 2020 fundraising target of US$ 2 billion, but at least US$ 4.6 billion more is needed in 2021 to procure doses of successful candidates as they come through the portfolio. 

The last two weeks have seen a number of pledges made to Gavi for the COVAX AMC, bringing the overall amount raised to US$ 2.4 billion from the following countries: Norway, Canada, Kuwait, Denmark, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Singapore, Estonia, the European Union, and the organization King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) / Gamers Without Borders.

The goal of COVAX is to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification by the end of 2021. These vaccines will be offered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritising healthcare workers then expanding to cover vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Further doses will then be made available based on country need, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat. The COVAX Facility will also maintain a buffer of doses for emergency and humanitarian use.

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