Omicron shouldn’t revive Covid vax nationalism: Covax chief

Beijing: While after months of struggle the Covax programme — the international vaccine scheme — has started picking up pace, the fast spread of Omicron to about 77 countries is posing a threat to it.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 80 per cent of the world’s vaccines had gone to wealthy Group of 20 countries, as of late November, while low-income countries had received just 0.6 per cent of all doses. About 41 countries have still not been able to vaccinate 10 per cent of their populations, and 98 countries have not reached 40 per cent yet.

The Covax facility launched in 2020 to help the most vulnerable populations in all countries to get vaccinated has struggled to meet its promises and left the poor countries scrambling for doses for months.

So far, Covax has delivered 693 million vaccine doses, and expects to hit between 800 million and 1 billion by the end of the year. But even those figures, if reached, would be half of the original 2 billion target, the South China Morning Post reported.

Covax was held back at first by the time it took to raise funds, before it could cut deals with the manufacturers, pushing it back in line, and then by delays as countries bought excess doses and waited to share them, Aurelia Nguyen, Managing Director of the Covax Facility, was quoted as saying by the report.

Covax is a partnership between the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

“Right now, we need to avoid a type of scenario which would be ‘vaccine nationalism 2.0’,” Nguyen said.

She said as supply bottlenecks are easing with the relaxing of export controls, an influx of dose donations, and deliveries from manufacturers, the officials are concerned that the existing vaccines or their courses need to be revised due to the highly mutated Omicron variant.

Nguyen said that it is essential to maintain “sustainable, regular supply” in the coming year, come what may.

“From our perspective, what’s most important is that as and when we see that there would be an Omicron-adapted vaccine, we are able to switch our supply onto the new vaccine very rapidly, at least as rapidly as other countries which have bilateral contracts with the manufacturers,” she noted.

Further, Covax’s existing contracts with vaccine manufacturers granted access to variant-specific versions of most of the vaccines in their portfolio — if they are needed. But it would be critical to prevent a “replay” of earlier issues that hampered Covax getting doses for needy countries, the report said.

“We are reliant on countries remaining committed to making sure that vaccines are made available globally at the same time. We are reliant on the manufacturers being transparent and being fair in how they use the supply that they have,” she said.

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