The World Health Organization (WHO) asked Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers on Monday to make half of their production of doses available to the international Covax initiative this year.
While wealthier countries have been building stocks of vaccines, Covax, which provides free doses to developing countries and wants to ensure equitable distribution among those who can afford to pay for them, has been unable to operate at full capacity.
“I call [on] all manufacturers to give Covax the right of first refusal on new vaccine volumes or to commit to making available 50% of their volumes to Covax this year,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.
“Inequitable vaccination is a threat to all nations, not just those with the least amount of vaccine.”
The issue is especially pronounced in India (where Covax sources most of its doses), since the country blocked exports of the vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India in order to fight the severe epidemic there.
As of June 4, Covax had shipped more than 80 million doses to 129 countries and territories, which is much less than expected.
WHO has therefore once again asked wealthy countries that have already vaccinated part of their population to share the vaccines. This isn’t the first time they’ve done so, either. Last month, Dr. Tedros called the inequity of the vaccine distribution “scandalous.”
“Inequitable distribution of vaccines has allowed the virus to continue to spread, increasing the risk of the emergence of a variant that makes the vaccines less effective,” said Dr. Tedros.
Dr. Tedros also urged countries further along in their vaccination campaigns to not relax measures against the spread of Covid-19 “too soon,” saying that while the number of known cases declined last week for the sixth consecutive week worldwide, cases are on the rise in Africa, the Americas and the Western Pacific.
Covax was created by the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to combat inequities in access to Covid immunization, including providing free doses to 92 disadvantaged countries and territories. It is co-led by those organisations, alongside partner UNICEF.