Amidst all the political hyperactivity in the background of a continuing pandemic, Nepal received some good news on Thursday – the country will receive about 2,256,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine before the end of February under the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s COVAX Facility. Ever since work began into the development of a vaccine against the coronavirus, Nepal has been looking at COVAX for the supply of effective jabs to immunise its population. The Ministry of Health and Population’s vaccine roll-out plan hinges on COVAX providing enough vaccine doses to inoculate 20 per cent of the population. So, clearly, COVAX is very important, but we do not really know much about it. In fact, many outside of health circles have not even heard of the word. So, perhaps it is worth exploring what COVAX is and how it will benefit developing and least developed countries like Nepal.
Officially called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, COVAX is a multilateral initiative to develop, manufacture and deploy vaccines against the novel coronavirus to countries across the world on a fair and equitable basis. It is part of a larger process called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator being led by the WHO in coordination with the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the Coalition for Innovations in Epidemic Preparedness. ACT was launched in April last year to respond to the global contagion with the European Union (EU) and France as partners.
The primary objective of COVAX is to ensure that the less wealthy nations of the world and their people also have access to approved COVID-19 shots. Its aim is to function as a funding mechanism wherein the participating countries will amass their resources and utilise their collective leverage to purchase vaccines at competitive prices and then, help each other immunise their populations.
The jabs that COVAX intends to acquire are the ones made by Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Agreements have already been concluded with the former two while talks are underway with the latter two. It is also monitoring the progress of other injections and will consider the possibility of integrating them into its supply if and when they are deemed safe by the appropriate authorities.
In the long-term, COVAX plans to invest in the development of at least nine jabs, secure lower-cost bulk access and distribute a total of two billion doses to all member countries by the end of 2021. Of these, 1.3 billion doses have been specifically earmarked for low and middle-income states.
To achieve this, COVAX has formed the COVAX Facility and the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to act as its procurement and financing arms respectively.
COVAX Facility is the main instrument responsible for guaranteeing that the citizens of the signatory countries have fair access to COVID-19 vaccines as they become available in the market. The AMC will put in place adequate mechanisms to support the 92 lower-middle and low-income economies which are part of the COVAX Facility. In other words, the AMC will keep a lookout to see that all eligible countries are getting their share of the vaccine regardless of their ability to pay. Through these two arms, COVAX and the WHO hope to prevent the poorer countries from being left out of the global inoculation drive.
So, who are the participating countries? Perhaps, a more appropriate question would be who are not because more than 190 nations, including the 27 EU members, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Singapore and many more have entered into agreements with COVAX.
The United States of America, though, refused to join. On the AMC part, a total of 92 low- and middle-income economies are eligible including Nepal along with all its SAARC counterparts and other countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Egypt, Indonesia and Myanmar.