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The first shipment of COVAX vaccine arrives in Ghana, hopefully for the developing world

A shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from the global vaccination program COVAX arrives at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, February 24, 2021.

Nipa Denis | AFP | Getty images

The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines, delivered through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, arrived in Ghana on Wednesday, a hopeful turning point for developing countries at risk of being abandoned in the global race to vaccinate against a virus that has killed nearly 2.5 million people worldwide.

The flight brought 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, one that is considered much easier to distribute in developing countries because it does not require extremely low storage temperatures like the Pfizer-GenTech and Moderna vaccines.

The vaccines delivered on Wednesday will be a priority for first-line health workers, people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions, according to the Ghanaian Ministry of Information.

“Today marks a historic moment for which we have planned and are working so hard,”

; said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Faure in a joint statement by her agency and WHO Ghana.

“With the first shipment of doses, we can deliver on the promise of the COVAX mechanism to ensure that people from less affluent countries are not left behind in the race for life-saving vaccines.

Airport workers transported a consignment of Covid-19 vaccines from the global Covid-Covid-19 vaccination program at Kotoka International Airport in Accra on February 24, 2021.

Nipa Denis | AFP | Getty images

COVAX is a global plan led by the WHO, an international vaccine alliance called Gavi, and the Innovation Preparedness Coalition for an Epidemic.

As richer countries move forward with costly vaccine development and supply, poorer countries suffer from the effects of inequality. Mark Susman, chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in December that it may be too late to distribute vaccines evenly because of the huge deals already provided by rich countries.

Wealthy countries, which make up only 14% of the world’s population, had secured 53% of the world’s supply of the most effective coronavirus vaccines by December, according to a group of human rights activists called the Human Vaccine Alliance.

COVAX was created to strive for equitable access to vaccines worldwide, aiming to vaccinate 20% of people in the 92 poorest countries in the world by the end of 2021 by funding donations. Several other middle-income countries are ready to acquire vaccines through COVAX on self-financing. The plan aims to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccines this year that have been approved as safe and effective by the WHO.

The footage delivered to Ghana was produced by the Indian Serum Institute, which gained access to intellectual property that allows it to produce vaccines using the Oxford-AstraZeneca formula. The African Union has provided about 670 million doses of the serum institute vaccine to its member states and as much as 60% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people will be inoculated over the next two to three years.

“Fastest so far”

“This is astonishingly important. We want the gap between rich and poor people to be vaccinated to be reduced to zero,” said Hassan Damluji, deputy director of global policy and advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in an interview. for CNBC Wednesday.

“We know it usually takes decades between the vaccine being developed and used for the first time in rich countries and then reaching the world’s poorest people. So Ghana gets its first shipment, just three months from the first vaccine deployment in the world is beyond exceptional, “he said. “It’s the fastest so far.”

A healthcare worker administers the Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to an adult cicen in Sao Goncalo near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 18, 2021.

Ricardo Moraes Reuters

The Gates Foundation has spent $ 1.75 billion on anti-coronavirus efforts and has focused on developing vaccines within COVAX.

Damluji noted that the supply of vaccines under the program to poor countries is fully funded by donors at a time when every developed world economy is in recession. “So it’s pretty remarkable,” he said.

Vaccine inequality will plunge countries into deeper poverty

Excluding poor countries from vaccination programs introduced in richer countries will have devastating and lasting consequences, economists and public health experts warn, drastically widening inequalities, hampering social and economic development and leaving a number of countries in significant shape. longer.

These inequalities mean that the long-term economic damage of a pandemic will be twice as severe in emerging markets as in developed ones, according to Oxford Economics. And a study by RAND Corporation predicts that the global economy will lose $ 153 billion a year in production if developing countries do not gain access to vaccines.

Countries in the COVAX donation plan are set to receive doses proportional to their population: Afghanistan will receive, for example, 3 million doses, while Namibia will receive just under 130,000.

The Palestinian Territories expect to receive vaccines through COVAX in March; Iran and Iraq are also part of COVAX, as are many lower-income countries in the Middle East. Richer Gulf states have procured their own shipments of vaccines directly from manufacturers, while some also contribute to the COVAX donation fund, despite suffering their own recessions: Saudi Arabia has contributed $ 300 million and Qatar has donated $ 10 million.

The United States had not contributed to the Trump administration’s COVAX facility, but the Biden administration promised the largest donation to date, $ 4 billion.

Damluji noted the challenges of COVAX’s goals by conducting expansionary inoculation campaigns in countries with defective infrastructure, limited logistics and transport opportunities, remote populations and, in some cases, violence and war.

“These things are a moving goal. That’s right, the world’s attention is focused on that and it wants to make sure it’s going well,” he said. “But a few months ago we didn’t even know which vaccines would work. And now people need them on their doorstep.”

“There will be some complications that also occur,” he added. “This is the biggest public procurement effort to date.”

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