When it comes to the provision of vaccination doses, the Member States of the European Union are on the safe side. But what happens in developing countries that have no money? An overview.
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The long-awaited rescue seems imminent – at least for some: in Britain mass vaccinations have already started, in the European Union a decision is due to be taken in December to approve a first corona vaccine. As vaccinations get closer to people in the EU, the imminent breakthrough is bittersweet for many poorer countries.
It was clear early on that many developing countries could barely hold their own in the vaccine market. That’s why the World Health Organization, along with vaccine alliances Gavi and Cepi, founded the Covax initiative months ago. The goal is to ensure fair distribution of vaccines.
So far, dozens of countries have joined the initiative – some self-financing their vaccine doses, others needing financial support. Covax promises the latter enough vaccination doses to vaccinate up to 20 percent of the country’s respective population. The program currently has nine candidates – including the promising vaccines from Astrazeneca and Moderna, but not those from Biontech and Pfizer.
Start vaccination in Great Britain: On Tuesday, the first people there were vaccinated with the officially approved drug. (Source: i Images / image images)
EU supports program with 400 million euros
The European Union has also pledged its support to Covax and has so far paid EUR 400 million. The fair distribution of vaccination doses is a special project for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The licensed physician never tires of emphasizing that one can only be safe when everyone is safe. “That means everyone has access to tests, treatments and vaccinations.”
In the spring, von der Leyen launched an international donation marathon to raise money as soon as possible for a vaccine for everyone. The “Coronavirus Global Response” pledged a total of almost 16 billion euros, 11.9 million of which from the EU Member States, the European Investment Bank and the European Commission.
While global solidarity is constantly being emphasized, the EU has also bought exclusive purchasing rights for vaccine doses in contracts with six manufacturers. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had recently warned of “vaccine nationalism” regarding such pre-purchases.
Nearly two billion doses of vaccine go to the Member States
With the treaties, the EU has secured up to two billion vaccine doses. Once a vaccine is approved, all EU countries must have access to the doses at the same time. The distribution is based on population size. However, it is up to states themselves how many doses they reserve for themselves and how much they donate to low- and middle-income countries. How much solidarity there will really be in the distribution is therefore still uncertain.
Covax also aims to pool two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. Funding for this is not yet certain. The initiative has raised about $ 5.5 billion so far, Matshidiso Moeti, head of WHO Africa recently said. However, about $ 4.2 billion more would be needed.
Merkel: “worries me”
Despite a lack of money, Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes that Covax will now make rapid progress. “I think the important thing now is that Covax is using the money it has to negotiate with potential vaccine manufacturers,” she said recently. “We will now talk to Gavi about when these negotiations will start. Because that worries me a bit now that nothing has been done yet.” Hundreds of millions of vaccine doses have already been secured, a Gavi spokesman said. That is why a letter of intent has recently been made for 200 million more cans. Further agreements will then be announced in due time.
But Covax alone is not nearly enough to beat the coronavirus in developing countries. Africa aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population to achieve immunity to herds, said John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa CDC, the African Union (AU) health organization recently. Covax provides only sufficient doses of vaccine for up to 20 percent of the population. Therefore, according to Nkengasong, the Africa CDC is seeking additional funds from the World Bank and the African Export-Import Bank for further vaccination doses.
Logistics is the biggest challenge
The biggest challenge, however, will be logistics. For example, the Pfizer vaccine should be stored at about minus 70 degrees Celsius. “These conditions make it very difficult for our continent to get vaccinations quickly,” said Nkengasong. The Astrazeneca vaccine is more attractive to Africa because of its simpler cooling needs, but it is less effective. Another difficulty will be to reach people in remote villages and conflict areas. That’s why Nkengasong insists on patience. “We have to be realistic that we will not get the vaccinations to Africa until halfway through next year.”
There is so much at stake in Africa. If a sufficiently large proportion of the population is not vaccinated quickly enough, it can have devastating consequences in the long term. “The last thing we want is for Covid to become an endemic disease on the continent,” said Nkengasong – a disease that, like the wild polio virus, will take years or even decades to eradicate. That would be a threat not only to Africa, but to the entire world.