Covid-19 vaccine makers say there are enough doses for everyone. Poor countries are still waiting for shots.
While booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine are given in the United States and other rich countries, a large majority of people in poor countries have not received their first injection.
Vaccine makers say they are doing enough for everyone. The problem is, according to public health officials and industry experts, too many clichés are still destined for high-income countries, where they risk going unused, rather than going to places that have them. most needed.
Manufacturers around the world now produce around 1.5 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine per month and are on track to produce a total of 12 billion doses by the end of the year, according to the International Federation of Manufacturers and pharmaceutical associations. By June, the total production of Covid-19 vaccines will have doubled to 24 billion doses, according to the pressure group.
That’s more than double the 11 billion doses that according to the World Health Organization are needed to immunize 70% of the world’s population on a two-dose schedule. World leaders at a summit hosted by President Biden last month said they aim to achieve that goal in every country on the planet by next September.
Despite the seemingly encouraging numbers, public health officials, activists and supply chain experts are warning that many poor countries are still struggling to get doses, even for their most-at-risk citizens.
So far, rich countries have delivered around 10% of the roughly 1.7 billion doses they have pledged to share with low- and lower-middle-income countries by next September, according to figures taken from Our World in Data, a project based at the University of Oxford.
This has prompted vaccine manufacturers and governments to release more information on how many vaccines they expect and when, and concerns that, in the event of a shortage, manufacturers will prioritize supplying countries to. high income, who usually pay more.
“Either the manufacturers manufacture [vaccine]and… hiding it under a bush. Or [they are]sell it to someone else who hides it under a bush, ”said Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “And if [they are]not to earn a billion and a half [doses], tell us.”
Currently, 2.3% of people in low-income countries have received their first Covid-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data. An interim target set by WHO to immunize at least 40% of the population in developing countries by the end of 2021 currently seems out of reach for many.
Last month, Covax, the WHO-backed program to deliver vaccines to developing countries, cut its delivery forecast for this year by a quarter, citing delays in shipments from several vaccine manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca PLC.
A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca said the company still plans to produce 170 million doses of Covax this year, as per its original commitment. Some doses released towards the end of the year may not reach their destination countries until early 2022. A J&J spokesperson said the company is committed to providing vaccines to Covax and developing countries. development.
Rich countries are in line for large surpluses, even though they, like the United States, are distributing booster shots to the elderly and other at-risk citizens and vaccinating children.
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Data firm Airfinity claims that, based on its analysis of expected vaccine supplies, some of the wealthiest Western economies – the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada – will have around 600 million. of doses remaining by the end of the year. This excess stock would reach around 900 million doses by mid-2022, enough, according to Airfinity, to close the gap from the vaccination target of 70% in low- and lower-middle-income countries by now. June.
Airfinity’s calculations of excess vaccine stocks assume that governments in rich countries are offering boosters to anyone over the age of 12 – a campaign on a larger scale than most currently – and taking into account the doses that these countries have already pledged to donate.
“I am convinced that high-income countries can share a lot more than they currently are,” said Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, which has tracked public data on vaccine supplies, orders and donations. “We are very close to the inflection point where the overall offering is adequate, but allocation, distribution and delivery challenges will take precedence.”
Gayle Smith, who coordinates the United States ‘global Covid-19 response at the State Department, said Washington has pledged to share additional doses if available, but warned that manufacturers’ production projections were sometimes unrealistic.
“What we have at any given time is a function of what happens when,” she said.
A spokesperson for the European Commission, responsible for purchasing vaccines for the 27-country bloc, said it was up to member states to decide on additional donations. Canada’s purchasing department, which manages the country’s Covid-19 stocks, did not respond to requests for comment. A UK government spokeswoman declined to say whether the UK would increase donations beyond the 100 million doses already pledged by June of next year.
Vaccines for wealthy western economies are only part of the total global supply. Nearly half of this year’s production, or some 5.7 billion doses, according to Airfinity, is expected to come from Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac.
But campaigners and public health experts say it is the vaccines made in the West that are most critical for dose sharing. This is because they have been shown to be more effective against Covid-19, including against the more transmissible Delta variant, and because international demand appears to be shifting towards these shots, said supply chain expert Prashant Yadav. at the Center for Global Development.
If rich countries decide to share their spare vaccines to help immunize people in developing countries, public health officials and campaigners say they shouldn’t leave them in warehouses for weeks or months. . The best way to share doses, they say, would be for governments to route existing orders with manufacturers directly to Covax or developing countries.
“What we are really pushing countries to do is say, ‘We’re going to pull out, or go to the back of the line, or allow Covax to get the first dibs,'” said Jenny Ottenhoff. , Senior Policy Director at One Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates to end extreme poverty.
This kind of stepped-up dose sharing will only work if companies and governments are willing to share information about their upcoming deliveries, she added.
Donations that arrive with little notice and expiration dates quickly approaching, or that add a new type of vaccine to the mix, make it difficult for developing countries to plan already complex immunization campaigns. Already, some 241 million of the 600 million excess doses expected to accumulate in wealthy countries by the end of December will either have expired or have a remaining shelf life of less than two months, according to Airfinity data.
“They’re preparing low-income countries to fail when they finally get doses,” Dr Aylward said.
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