The World Health (WHO) Organization says 172 countries are currently engaging with the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, the largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio in the world.
This comes after it sent a letter to all Member States requesting them to join the vaccine arm of the Act-Accelerator last week.
The Organization said presently, there were nine vaccines in the vaccine portfolio, constantly being reviewed and optimized to ensure access to the best possible range of products.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO in his opening remark at a media briefing on COVID-19 said discussions were ongoing with four more producers of the vaccine, while nine vaccines were currently under evaluation for the longer term.
He said the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, was a critical mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines to ensure that whatever vaccine was proven to be safe and effective, countries within the Facility would be able to access them.
Dr. Ghebreyesus said the WHO was working with vaccine manufacturers to provide all countries with timely and equitable access to all vaccines, licensed and approved.
“This doesn’t just pool risk, it also means that prices will be kept as low as possible,” he said. New research outlines that, global competition for vaccine doses could lead to prices spiking exponentially in comparison to a collaborative effort such as the COVAX Facility.
It may also lead to a prolonged pandemic as only a small number of countries would get most of the supply.
The world has so far invested 12 trillion dollars in keeping economies moving.
According to Dr Ghebreyesus, investing in the COVAX Facility was the fastest way to end the pandemic and ensure a sustainable economic recovery.
“Through the allocation framework, COVAX will ensure that low-, middle- and high-income countries all receive the vaccine in a timely way as soon as there is supply of a safe and effective vaccine,” he said.
The Director General said the success of the COVAX Facility hinged not only on countries signing up to it, but also filling key funding gaps for both the research and development work and to support lower-income economies within the Facility.
“Our only way out of this pandemic is together, initially, when there will be limited supply, it’s important to provide the vaccine to those at highest risk around the world,” he noted.
This includes; health workers as they are on the frontlines in the pandemic and critical to saving lives and stabilising the overall health system.
It also includes; people over 65 years old and those with certain diseases that put them at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
Dr Ghebreyesus said as supply increased, the next stage of the vaccine rollout would be expanded based on an assessment of each country’s vulnerability to the virus.
A number of vaccines are now in the final stage of clinical trials and the world hopes to have multiple successful candidates that are both safe and effective.
In order to be able to secure enough doses to rollout the vaccines, the next step for the partnership is for countries to make binding commitments in support of the COVAX Facility.
He said while the WHO was grateful for the funds already committed towards the COVAX Facility, more was urgently needed to continue to move the portfolio forward.
“The goal of the mechanism is to deliver at least two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines by the end of 2021, as governments invest trillions into economic stimulus, the COVAX Facility offers a huge return on investment,” he said.
The Director General said while investing collectively in research and development on vaccines; nations needed to also use the tools at hand now to suppress the virus, adding, adherence to all safety protocols must continue.