The World Health Organization (WHO) on August 18 urged countries to join a global pact aimed at ensuring less wealthy countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines, warning about the risks from so-called "vaccine nationalism." Here is a look at the WHO's plan and the approaches by wealthier nations.
What is the WHO's vaccine programme?
The COVAX global vaccines facility is a program designed to pool funds from wealthier countries and nonprofits to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it equitably around the world. Its aim is to deliver 2 billion doses of effective, approved COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.
The details of the program are still being hashed out ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for nations to join. It is led by the WHO, along with the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
COVAX is part of a broader program, called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, that works to ensure that vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and other healthcare resources are broadly available to combat the pandemic.
What are wealthier nations doing?
They have focused on securing vaccines for their own citizens, striking deals for the first doses even as data has yet to prove the vaccines to be effective.
Governments including United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the European Union have spent tens of billions of dollars on deals with vaccine makers such as Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca Plc and others. The United States alone has committed nearly $11 billion for development, testing, manufacture and stockpiling of hundreds of millions of doses.
Russia and China are also working on vaccines and have already begun vaccinating some of their citizens.
What kind of resources are being brought to bear?
The ACT Accelerator is financed by a variety of nonprofits and governments. It is aiming to raise about $31 billion.
So far, the COVAX facility has attracted interest from 92 poorer countries hoping for voluntary donations and 80 wealthier countries, a number little changed from a month ago, that would finance the scheme, according to the WHO.
What is the WHO's concern?
The WHO has expressed concern that wealthier countries hoarding vaccines for their own citizens could impede efforts to end the pandemic.
"We need to prevent vaccine nationalism," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a Tuesday virtual briefing. “Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest.”
WHO leaders have said that developing a coordinated global distribution system for COVID-19 vaccines that prioritize those at greatest risk of getting sick, such as healthcare workers, would help curb the spread of coronavirus worldwide.
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