Almost no COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in the developing world. But that is soon to change.

A new forecast predicts the manufacture and distribution of over 300 million doses of a vaccine for the developing world by the first half of 2021. These vaccines will soon find their way into the arms of healthcare workers in the developing world —  a moment that will finally usher in the beginning of the end of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide.

At the center of this effort is COVAX.  This is the multilateral platform created last April to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to most of humanity. COVAX includes both wealthier countries and countries of the developing world that do not have the capacity to purchase sufficient doses on their own. The “interim distribution forecast” released by COVAX on February 3 indicates that vaccine doses should begin arriving to participating countries before the end of February.

As Goes the AstraZeneca/Oxford Vaccine So Goes the World

So far, most people in North America or Europe who have received a Covid-19 vaccine have received either the Moderna or Pfizer/Biontech vaccines. These were the first vaccines approved by regulators and the first to receive crucial Emergency Use Listing by the World Health Organization. But these vaccines are so far ancillary to broader global efforts to curb the pandemic because supplies have been mostly bought up by wealthy countries.  Despite their apparent effectiveness, almost no doses of these vaccines have been made available to people in the developing world.

The data shows just how important the AstraZeneca vaccine is to the global plan to curb the pandemic.

Of the 337.2 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine that will be distributed through COVAX, 336 million will be the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

This vaccine was developed with early investments from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives, which is one of the founding partners of COVAX.  Accordingly, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is being made available at cost to COVAX. It is also being mass produced by the Serum Institute in India, a giant drug manufacturer which has long provided low-cost medicines for the developing world. Crucially, unlike the Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna vaccines the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine does not require excessive cold storage which makes it cheaper and easier to distribute.

The vaccines cannot come soon enough.

Last month, I spoke with a top health official in Nigeria and member of the government’s Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Faisal Shuaib. Nigeria has a population of over 200 million people. It is the 7th most populous country on the planet and is in the midst of a worsening second wave of COVID infections.  You could hear the desperation in his voice describing the need for at least some doses of the vaccines to cover health workers.  But as of then, he did not know when to expect any.

This forecast from COVAX changes that equation. It is the first time that health officials in Nigeria and 144 other countries and economies have  been given an indication of doses they can expect to receive. The forecast for Nigeria, for example, shows that the country should receive 16,008,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Vaccine. About 35% of this supply should arrive in first quarter of the 2021, the rest by the end of the second quarter.

Countries of the developing world can finally expect to receive some doses of the vaccine in the coming weeks.

Though brand new, COVAX is built on the backs of three existing multilateral entities: GAVI–the Vaccine Alliance (established in 2000), The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (established in 2017)  and the World Health Organization (established 1948).

Each of these institutions are premised on the idea that the health of people in the wealthiest countries depends in some measure on the health of people in the poorest countries — and vice versa. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated this plainly and for all to see.

The total number of vaccine doses forecasted to be available through the end of the first half of 2021 is equivalent to 3.3% of the population of participating countries — enough to cover healthcare workers and some vulnerable populations. It is also an important step toward COVAX’s goal of covering 20% of the population of participating countries by the end of the year.

The success of COVAX is still being determined. But the forecasted distribution of 337.2 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine is the moment we can finally see how this pandemic ends worldwide.

 

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