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Why Has The Covax Program Failed?

Created By the WHO, The Covax Program Intended To Distribute Vaccines Against COVID-19 in An Equitable Way, But It Has Not Produced the Expected Results

COVID-19 vaccine vial

To date, Covax has supplied 72 million vaccines to 125 countries, well below the 172 million estimated for this period. Photo: Freepik

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Goméz Hernández

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Leer en español: ¿Por qué ha fallado el programa Covax?

Last weekend, the leading scientific journal The Lancet published an article strongly criticizing the results of the Covax program. It was a strategy created by the WHO and the United Nations to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 for poor and middle-income countries, on par with the superpowers. However, the results are quite limited. According to the magazine, to date, Covax has supplied 72 million vaccines to 125 countries, well below the intended 172 million

These 72 million doses only represent 4% of the world population, taking into account that the richest countries already reach figures close to 60% of their population. Only 10 countries have applied 75% of the doses today.

In May, (about a month ago) countries in Africa had not yet received doses of Covid vaccines. Chad, Tanzania or Burkina Faso did not have their health personnel immunized, but we already saw news from first world countries announcing doses for minors (which in theory have lower mortality).

The WHO warns that 9 out of 10 countries will not reach the goal of vaccinating at least 10% of their population in September. There is an alarming deficit of 225 million doses for the continent, especially for sub-Saharan Africa. This, while the numbers of official infections are increasing, in a continent where it is suspected that the few infections are due to under-registration.

Donation Announcements Prove Covax Is a Failure

Recently, the G7 countries agreed to donate 1 billion vaccines to the rest of the world. However, this means a setback against the system that Covax intends to implement. Firstly, because this announcement was made when most of these countries had reached herd immunity (or are close to it).

Second, because it maintains the idea that poor countries should depend on rich ones and does not promote an equitable model or system in which each nation accesses these benefits individually. In addition, this can also fall within vaccine diplomacy, in which they are donated to friendly countries and as long as they remain aligned with the intentions of the West. 

Also read: Vaccine diplomacy

Vaccine Tourism

Another example of the failure of Covax is that while there are countries with populations at risk that have not yet received vaccines, in others the possibility of vaccinating tourists was already formalized. Obviously, only for people with enough purchasing power to buy tickets and accommodation. All this, while there is a shortage of vaccination in other countries and when there are preventable deaths every day in Latin America.

Possible Solutions

Since the pandemic began, there are several alternatives to improve the equitable distribution of vaccines. However, 3 of them have received the most support.

The first is to release patents. Several industrialized countries have supported the initiative to release patents for vaccines against Covid-19. It is believed that releasing them (while the disease is considered a pandemic) would allow several laboratories around the world to start producing these doses. It could not only reduce stockouts, but also prices. Furthermore, it would set a historic precedent for upcoming pandemics. However, pharmaceutical companies are adamantly opposed, as they would lose profits. This could also discourage laboratories in future vaccine production.

Another idea similar to the previous one is to incentivize vaccine production in the global south (low- and middle-income countries). This would be achieved with the opening of pharmaceutical factories in regions such as South America, Africa, or the Middle East. This argument was presented by The Lancet. Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University explains in the magazine that "there is no global solution to the vaccine crisis without governments exerting pressure on Big Pharma, including the release of intellectual property rights or the transfer of technology. It is literally it is impossible to increase vaccine production if there are no more manufacturing centers, even in low-income countries. "

The third immediate alternative for Covid,  are new vaccines from different laboratories that are close to approval. However, by the time they are available, it could be too late for this pandemic.