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Covid-19: WHO in ambitious plan to deliver 2bn vaccine doses by 2021

Sunday July 05 2020
WHO

This photograph taken on July 3, 2020, shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva, amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. PHOTO | FABRICE COFFRINI | AFP

By ELIZABETH MERAB

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its key partners have unveiled a plan to purchase two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines for the highest risk populations of the world.

To get this, the organisations, which include the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, estimate they will need $18.1billion (the equivalent of Sh2 trillion) for research and development through 2021, at which point the WHO hopes to have brought the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic to an end.

The plan anticipates that by the end of next year, the doses could be delivered to countries to vaccinate high-risk individuals, like health care workers, people over the age of 65, and those with underlying medical conditions like diabetes.

The UN health agency estimates $11 billion (about Sh1.2 trillion) will be needed over the next six months to put its plan into action, as the WHO plans for countries to pool their resources and invest in the development of a broad portfolio of experimental vaccines, obtaining in return a guaranteed share of the resulting supplies.

KEY PLAN

The effort is one pillar of the WHO’s efforts to ensure all countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics called the Access to Covid-19 Tools (simply referred to as ACT).

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The idea is to lessen the risk of betting on any one vaccine, while creating a mechanism by which doses are fairly allocated during the initial stages of a vaccine's availability.

As humanity holds onto hope, science continues with the race for a cure.

The global scientific community is working at unprecedented speed to find ways to treat and prevent Covid-19, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has since infected 10.5 million cases and killed 511,000 worldwide.

Although work began in January with the deciphering of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, the first vaccine safety trials in humans started in March.

To date, the WHO has identified 17 Covid-19 vaccine candidates, which are in clinical evaluation, with another 131 in preclinical stages.

The WHO estimates the chance of success for an experimental vaccine prior to Phase 2 testing to be less than 20 per cent.

"At any given time, there will be a vaccine or two that will be in the front of the race. It's important not to lose sight of the big diversified pool that's moving along," said Andrew Witty, a former chief executive for GlaxoSmithKline and now a special envoy to the WHO.

COMMITMENTS

In the plan laid out last week Friday, countries will be offered “shares” of the nine candidate vaccines that Cepi is supporting, as well as other vaccines the consortium may end up purchasing.

The idea is that because it is not known which vaccines will be successful, purchasing shares in a pool — to be called the Covax facility — will broaden a country’s chances of having access to vaccines. It is expected that donors will help support shares for low- and middle-income countries.

In addition to the funding, the project would also need commitments from high- and upper-middle-income countries to purchase up to 950 million doses of vaccine through the Vaccine Global Access (Covax)facility meant to create a level of demand that would convince vaccine manufacturers to scale up production and set aside supplies.

The remaining one billion doses of the 2 billion the WHO hopes to procure would go to lower-income countries, particularly populations that are at higher risk.

"We can do the R&D, we can manufacture the doses, but if it doesn't get to the people who need them the most, then it's of no use," said Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO's chief scientist, during a press virtual conference.

INVESTMENT FACILITY

Working with the partners, the WHO has set up an investment facility that will put money towards developing and manufacturing a number of the more promising vaccine candidates, as well as providing for procurement and delivery should any succeed.

Currently, the WHO has about $2.6 billion (Sh277 billion)available of the $18.1 billion it anticipates needing over the next year and a half.

Vaccines are difficult to make and historically more vaccine projects fail than succeed. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said about seven percent of vaccines make it through preclinical development, and maybe 15 per cent to 20 per cent that enter the clinic are successful.

“The vast majority will fail, but by having a large portfolio this will move forward,” Berkley said, adding that Gavi has signed a memorandum of understanding for 300 million doses with AstraZeneca, which is partnering with Oxford University on a vaccine that has already begun a Phase 3 clinical trial.

But there is a risk that wealthy countries are negotiating advance direct purchase agreements with various manufacturers. Dr Berkley of Gavi said the international community must ensure all countries will have access to any potential vaccines, regardless of their wealth.

"This is a global problem that needs a global solution and we have to all work together," he said during a virtual fundraising summit hosted by Britain.

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