SWITZERLAND – Covax, a global vaccine program run by Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), has urged countries to take action immediately to close the global vaccine equity gap.

Despite unprecedented progress in terms of speed, scale, and demographics in administering billions of Covid-19 vaccines, existing inequities continue to cost lives and prolong the pandemic by heightening the threat posed by the emergence of new, potentially more dangerous virus variants.

The Covid vaccination initiative has urged all partners to ensure countries have the resources needed to accelerate immunization, read a press statement by the UNICEF, which is a key delivery partner of Covax.

Reportedly, only 16% of people in low-income countries have received a single vaccine dose – compared to 80% in high-income countries.

Many of society’s most vulnerable members – healthcare workers, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions – go unprotected in certain low-income countries, while young, healthy adults receive booster doses in wealthier countries.

Demand and uptake are low, with low-income countries remaining furthest behind, it added and pointed out that Covax has access to enough Covid-19 vaccines to help protect the WHO global target of 70% of the population in each of the 91 lower-income countries.

The number of countries with less than 10% coverage has decreased from 34 in January to 18 in May.

Covax has more than enough doses to enable 91 low-income countries supported by the Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC) – which provides donor-funded doses of a wide range of Covid-19 vaccines – to meet their targets in light of the WHO global target of protecting 70% of the population in each country.

Meanwhile, COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC)-supported countries such as Bhutan, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Maldives, Fiji, and Bangladesh have coverage rates of more than 70%.

Only 16% of people in low-income countries have received a single vaccine dose – compared to 80% in high-income countries.

Vaccine demand in AMC-supported countries

Despite the fact that vaccine demand is highly dynamic and difficult to predict, Covax was able to make some preliminary estimates of overall demand with input from governments in AMC-supported countries.

According to the most recent analysis of demand planning forecasts provided to Covax by these countries, estimated demand from now to early 2023 is currently around 330 million doses, in addition to what countries have already delivered or accepted.

Supply certainty allows countries to plan national vaccination campaigns with greater confidence, maintains a rolling buffer of stock, and facilitates smooth and efficient roll-outs.

Both global and Covax supply now exceed demand, which is an advantageous situation in a pandemic because it ensures long-term supply availability and product choice for all countries.

National governments in low-income countries have led the way, with over 3.8 billion Covid-19 doses administered to date.

In 15 months, Covax has shipped over 1.3 billion vaccines to 87 low and lower-middle-income countries around the world, according to the press release.

The shipments account for 82% of vaccines delivered to low-income countries, as well as the vast majority of Covid-19 vaccines administered in humanitarian settings.

Recommendations to bridge the gap

Donors should help Covax maintain a diverse portfolio, including variant-adapted vaccines if necessary, according to the UN agency, and manufacturers should collaborate with Covax to re-phase or re-size supply from existing advance purchase agreements.

To continue making meaningful progress toward closing the global vaccine equity gap, UNICEF has urged countries to set ambitious targets backed by concrete implementation plans – prioritizing full coverage of high-risk groups – and all partners to coordinate on providing countries with the resources needed to accelerate and expand national strategies, stimulate demand, and overcome operational bottlenecks.

The next three to four months are critical for speeding up Covid-19 vaccination campaigns and integrating vaccination efforts into routine primary health care systems.

Covax, the vaccines pillar of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, is co-led by Cepi, Gavi, WHO, and UNICEF, in collaboration with vaccine manufacturers from developed and developing countries, Paho, the World Bank, and others.

It is the only global initiative collaborating with governments and manufacturers to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are available to both high-income and low-income countries worldwide.

Meanwhile, Covax is working with manufacturers to help make supply more responsive to the changing demand environment.

Liked this article? Sign up to receive our regular email newsletters, focused on Africa and World’s healthcare industry, directly into your inbox. SUBSCRIBE HERE