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WHO hails ‘huge progress’ on global Covid-19 vaccine initiative

But US sits out as 64 other higher-income countries join equal access vaccine programme

Efforts to pool national resources in the fight against Covid-19 were boosted this week by 64 higher-income countries signing agreements to take part in a global plan for equal access to vaccines against the coronavirus.

The deals mean the Covax initiative—co-led by the World Health Organization, the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—now covers nearly two-thirds of the world’s population.

“When we’ve got 64 per cent of the world’s population as a single entity working together, that’s huge progress,” Bruce Aylward from the WHO, told a press conference on 21 September.

Covax is aiming to secure two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 which, once licensed, will be distributed according to a mechanism released by the WHO this week that prioritises healthcare workers and those at greatest risk.

The higher-income countries taking part in Covax, which include the 27 member states of the European Union plus Norway and Iceland, join 92 lower-income countries eligible for financial support through the plan. But the list of Covax members does not include the United States, China or India.

The United States has opted out of the initiative, while China and India are reported to still be in talks over joining. Other countries including the United Kingdom have signalled they will take part, and the WHO says it expects 38 more countries to sign up.

Joining agreements require governments to provide an upfront payment by 9 October. “When the funds are deposited, we can begin the process of signing formal agreement with vaccine manufacturers and developers,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi. “The Covax facility is now open for business.”

There is still a substantial shortfall in funds required for R&D on Covid-19 vaccines, with an estimated $700-800 million needed to move forward the portfolio of vaccines coordinated by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.