The firm behind a COVID-19 vaccine hailed as a critical tool for developing countries has shipped tens of millions of doses to wealthier countries but none to the United Nations-backed program to provide poorer countries, indicating that unfairness in the global response to the epidemic remains.
COVAX had hoped to have 250 million doses from Novavax ready by March, but the United Nations organization in charge of supplies says the first shipments will most likely be in April or May.
This wasn’t intended to happen. When the pandemic was erupting two years ago, CEPI, one of the groups supporting COVAX, funded Novavax $388 million to fast-track the vaccine’s research, with the goal of making the injection available in impoverished nations.
According to CEPI spokeswoman Bjorg Dystvold Nilsson, the investment secured COVAX the “right of first refusal” on the first Novavax dosages, although the arrangement only extended to plants in the Czech Republic, South Korea, and Spain.
Other factories aren’t participating in the contract, so their shoots will be directed elsewhere.
Millions of Novavax doses have been produced by India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. More than 28.9 million of those pills were supplied to the Netherlands in January and February, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the institution, while Australia received roughly 6 million doses. In December, nearly 9 million doses were sent to Indonesia.
Thousands of more Novavax doses were also supplied to other EU nations from a Dutch firm.
“Whatever the reason, a vaccine that was thought to be extremely fit for impoverished nations is suddenly moving to affluent countries in significant numbers,” said Zain Rizvi, a drug policy specialist with Public Citizen in the United States. “It’s terrible that we can’t acquire the funding, attention, or political will to fix vaccination inequities in the third year of the epidemic.”
The delay is COVAX’s latest setback, since the company has been plagued by supply issues and has missed many deadlines to deliver dosages.
Last year, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, called the gap in vaccination supply between affluent and poor nations a “catastrophic moral failing.”
Vaccine supply in disadvantaged areas has lately improved, but logistical issues continue.
Only roughly 14% of persons in low-income countries have gotten at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination, according to Oxford University research. According to official data, more than 680 million doses of COVAX-provided vaccinations are either unused or expired.
Despite improving vaccination supplies, some authorities were looking forward to the Novavax vaccine in particular since it is simpler to carry and store than other coronavirus vaccines. They also hoped it would entice individuals who were suspicious of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which had a bungled introduction in Europe.
Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic, and Kiribati were among the countries set to get Novavax doses from COVAX by March.
Novavax was a modest American firm that had never brought a vaccine to market before the epidemic. Its shots have shown to be incredibly successful, but it is primarily reliant on third parties to manufacture them.
Due to the company’s struggles to scale up manufacturing, deliveries to other nations, including several in the European Union, have been delayed. More than 1 billion Novavax doses are expected to be delivered to COVAX.
The Gaithersburg, Maryland-based business stated in a statement that it had not to share any doses with Gavi, the vaccinations alliance that spearheads the COVAX program, but said it was willing to do so.
Novavax stated, “We continue to work with Gavi to achieve our common aim of guaranteeing worldwide access to our protein-based vaccine where it is most required.”
Part of the reason for the delay, according to Gavi, is that the Novavax vaccine was not approved by WHO until December. Novavax would be allocated in the future, according to Gavi, which is “in regular contact with the producer and anticipates the supply to be ready for distribution when nations need it.”
Health authorities are also concerned that the need to vaccinate everyone against COVID-19 has faded, particularly as many nations take down measures and the world’s focus is diverted elsewhere.
“Rich nations have moved on from COVID, and everyone is concentrated on the war in Ukraine,” said Ritu Sharma, vice-president of the organization CARE. “However, COVID-19 remains an acute catastrophe for most people throughout the globe.”
She said that COVAX was still in critical need of vaccinations, and that, at the present rate of vaccination, the globe would be “years and years” away from immunizing enough people to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks.
Other experts believe it is the responsibility of public health institutions to guarantee that vaccination expenditures benefit disadvantaged nations and to be more honest about what went wrong.
“Whatever the answer is, it’s unacceptable,” said Brook Baker, a Northeastern University access to medicines specialist. “The basic fact is that many individuals in poor nations are still unvaccinated, and they are once again at the back of the queue.”