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Coronavirus

Lives on the line if world fails with COVID-19 vaccine logistics, warns COVAX chief

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While governments race to get vaccine logistics up to speed and distribute the lifesaving COVID-19 shot within their borders, public health experts have cautioned that global consensus is a must for ensuring that the critical medicine reaches all places and prevents needless loss of life.

With the global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines well under way, there is a huge risk and many more lives on the line if countries don’t work together, COVAX Managing Director, Aurelia Nguyen, told Al Arabiya English.

Management of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, seen by many as both a scarce resource and the primary way for the world to return to normalcy, has already caused some to worry that poor countries have been pushed to the back of the queue in favor of richer countries.

Nguyen also said there is clear temptation for governments to isolate and retreat within their borders while trying to secure COVID-19 vaccines, as many global societies and countries are under strain, which would cause “needless loss of life.”

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COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), The Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with global vaccine manufacturers, the World Bank, and others.

Covering over 90 percent of the world’s population with 190 countries signed on, COVAX is the only global initiative working with governments and manufacturers on vaccine logistics, ensuring global availability of COVID-19 vaccines in both higher-income and lower-income countries, according to CEPI.

Quick vaccine rollout is essential to halting the pandemic, however vaccine logistics has proven to be more difficult in practice than on paper.

While the group has already secured two billion doses for 2021, COVAX is yet to start the vaccine rollout to the most vulnerable.

Getting COVID-19 vaccine logistics up to speed

The past year has witnessed unprecedented scientific and medical breakthroughs with an inflow of funding for vaccine research and an overwhelming interest of the general public to participate in clinical trials, resulting in the emergency approval and rollout of several candidates.

In an attempt to prevent vaccine nationalism and unfair distribution, COVAX was created in the early months of the pandemic toensure that equitable vaccine logistics provides lifesaving inoculations to the whole world..

According to Nguyen, the world is right at the beginning of moving “from the scientific challenge to the delivery challenge.”

When asked about the vaccines that are to be included in the COVAX portfolio, Nguyen said that the facility welcomes all COVID-19 vaccines that are safe and effective, regardless of origin.

“No single vaccine or no single manufacturer will be the one solution,” added Nguyen.

CEPI is leading on the COVAX vaccine research and development portfolio with the goal to support development of safe and effective vaccines which can be made available to the participating countries.

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The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines under COVAX means that all 190 participating and eligible countries will be able to access doses to protect their vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021. The initial group to be inoculated, covering around 3 percent of each country’s population, is likely go to health care workers, according to WHO.

“We're aiming [to inoculate] the three percent, which is the number of health care workers to be vaccinated across the first half of 2021 and then across the rest of 2021, a very rapid scale up to be able to protect the most at risk populations,” added Nguyen.

At least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses will be made available to 92 middle- and lower-income countries that cannot fully afford to pay for COVID-19 vaccines, targeting up to 20 percent population coverage by the end of the year.

However, with an ambitious aim for the 2021 vaccine distribution, poor countries that have not been able to secure bilateral deals with vaccine manufacturers are bracing for the rollout to start with no concrete date in sight.

“COVAX is making every possible effort to have COVID-19 vaccines available as early as possible to all participants but as of today there is no confirmation of quantities and timelines for vaccine delivery,” a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson told Al Arabiya English earlier this month.

Preparing for the next pandemic

Parallel to the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, global communities have witnessed a surge in misinformation, coupled with conspiracy theories related to the nature of the vaccine, resulting in increased vaccine hesitancy across the globe.

In the midst of the pandemic, the world has also been going through an “infodemic,” stressing the importance of reliable sources of information that people can easily access and understand, Nguyen explained.

“Unfortunately, [misinformation] hurts our efforts to defeat the pandemic. If we have a vaccine, that is our best hope for ending the acute phase,” added Nguyen. “As we have seen that vaccines in the past have been the key to eradicating diseases like smallpox.”

Going forward, COVAX says its preparation plans for the next pandemic will go hand-in-hand with addressing misinformation and strengthening global alliances against vaccine nationalism.

For now though, Nguyen is hopeful for the future, noting that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight.

“Already vaccinating with two billion doses will mean that we can reopen our economies and trade and tourism can start up again,” she concluded.

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