Across the world, the scientific community is joining efforts to find a vaccine that will immunize the population against the coronavirus. Under the assumption that a vaccine will be available but may not be readily accessible to smaller or less developed regions, some countries have begun to look for alternatives to access doses in a timely and equitable manner. One of the ways that is happening is through an effort called COVAX.
COVAX is a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. The goal of COVAX is to deliver 2 billion doses of safe, effective SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus preventive vaccines by the end of 2021, initially prioritizing healthcare workers then expanding to cover 20% of the population of participating countries.
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, including dealing with severe outbreaks before they spiral out of control.
COVAX plans to achieve this goal by sharing the risks associated with vaccine development, investing in manufacturing upfront so vaccines can be deployed at scale as soon as they are proven successful, and pooling procurement and purchasing power to achieve sufficient volumes to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 disease pandemic.
Ecuador becomes part of alliance
Seventy-five countries have submitted expressions of interest to protect their populations and those of other nations through joining COVAX.
The 75 countries, who would finance the vaccines from their own public finance budgets, will partner up with 90 lower-income countries that could be supported through voluntary donations to COVAX. [The alliance has already raised close to $600 million against an initial target of $2 billion from high income donors and the private sector.]
Together, this group of up to 165 countries represents more than 60% of the world’s population. Among the group are representatives from every continent and more than half of the world’s G20 economies. One of those countries is Ecuador.
Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), explained that the cost of the doses and access to the vaccine will be negotiated through the COVAX program. “It will be connected to the rotating vaccine fund and lower prices will be sought. Working together, we hope to eliminate competition between members of the group. With this, the countries with less resources will be at the same level as the big ones and have a better chance of accessing the doses.”
“COVAX is the only truly global solution to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
“For the vast majority of countries, whether they can afford to pay for their own doses or require assistance, it means receiving a guaranteed share of doses and avoiding being pushed to the back of the queue, as we saw during the H1N1 pandemic a decade ago.”
Xavier Solórzano, Deputy Minister of Governance and Health Surveillance, noted that “the country joined the global COVAX alliance that will allow us to access the vaccine, when it is available, by joining the program that groups countries of the Americas region.”
He added, “We are in the first phase of negotiation agreeing on quotas and conditions. Prices are not yet negotiated. “Solórzano also said that with COVAX, Ecuador expects that”20% of the production of the vaccine will be allotted to the Americas and the Caribbean region.”
Vaccine development status
The Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health has been following the progress of the development of the vaccine and recently reported on how the effort is going.
“At the moment there are 200 groups around the world working on developing a vaccine for the coronavirus; 18 are already testing on humans. Human testing is based on evaluating safety and efficacy. However, no one knows how effective any of these vaccines will be.”
However, significant progress has been achieved by the COVAX partners to date, with seven of the nine candidate vaccines supported by CEPI* already in clinical trials. A memorandum of understanding with AstraZeneca also commits them to supply 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX.
* The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is a foundation that takes donations from public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations, to finance independent research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.