The World Health Organisation has urged wealthier member states to join its Covid-19 vaccine facility by the end of the month, amid fears it may not raise enough money to fund the global inoculation programme.
The mechanism, known as Covax, aims to ensure the equitable global distribution of 2 billion doses of effective vaccines by the end of 2021, but the initiative has so far failed to build momentum.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said on Tuesday that he had written to all member states calling on them to join Covax by August 31st.
Under the current plan, high-income countries pay to buy vaccines from the facility, while 92 so-called “funded” countries receive financial assistance.
Bruce Aylward, special adviser to Mr Tedros, said it was in countries' interests to pool their resources in order to reduce risk, get the best possible prices and guarantee access to vaccines. "We're not twisting people's arms to join the facility," he said.
Covax is led by the UN-backed vaccine alliance Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) and the WHO. According to the current vaccination plan, the distribution of doses will be split into two phases.
In the first phase, vaccines will be allocated proportionally to all participating countries to cover up to 20 per cent of their population in order to vaccinate “most of the at-risk groups”, Mr Tedros said. The second phase of distribution will prioritise those countries at greater risk from the spread of Covid-19.
“We have learnt the hard way that the fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest-risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries,” Mr Tedros said.
The WHO said in July that Gavi had raised close to $600 million (€502.8 million) from participating countries, as well as from the private sector, against an initial target of $2 billion (€1.67 billion).
"The deadline is fast approaching and we're quite concerned that [Covax] might not plug the funding gap," said Manuel Martin, a policy adviser at Médecins Sans Frontières.
Mr Martin said countries had been frustrated and “on edge” about being excluded from the decision-making process and felt the August deadline was too short given the available information about the facility, parts of which are still under discussion.
The WHO’s Dr Aylward said some elements of the agreements were indeed still under review, adding that the Covax team had been working through “the barriers to collaborating”, including “issues around price, issues around timing, issues around national expectations”.
“The key for us now is that this is another one of these windows of opportunity that we have to use extremely well,” he said. “We’ve got to get the highest-risk parts of the world vaccinated at the same time. You can only do that when you’ve got a global facility.”
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020