COVAX Vaccine Distributions Pick Up Speed

Sriya Surapaneni

Castle Pines, Colorado

COVAX has plans to deliver over two billion doses of vaccines to 190 countries before 2022 (Photo Credit: UNICEF)

The world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine supply and allocation operation has begun its first wave of global distributions, starting in Africa.


Gavi announced that the global roll-out of vaccines commenced on February 24 in Accra, Ghana with 600,000 doses of vaccines. Côte d’Ivoire received 504,000 doses of the vaccine on February 26, and the deliveries have continued since.


This distribution effort, named COVAX, was created by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Its goal is to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines as one of four pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is “a groundbreaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines,” according to the WHO.


COVAX has plans to deliver over two billion doses of vaccines to 190 countries before 2022, according to a statement from Gavi. Around 1.3 billion doses are set to go to countries whose governments will receive the vaccines at no cost. According to BBC News, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, both approved for emergency use by the WHO, are currently the only vaccines shipped through COVAX.


On behalf of COVAX, UNICEF is leading the charge to obtain and deliver both vaccines to all 190 participating countries. As the current largest vaccine procurer and distributor in the world, UNICEF feels that it has the expertise needed to carry out this task. In an interview with CBS, Michael Nyenhuis, the president and CEO of UNICEF, said, “So we know how to do this. We have the infrastructure. We have the supply chain to be able to do it.”


By March 5, ten days after the first doses were delivered to Ghana, over 12 million vaccines were shipped to nineteen countries, including Rwanda, Kenya and Angola. Moldova was among this group as the first European country to receive vaccines from COVAX, according to Gavi.


Despite vaccines being rolled out at a faster pace than ever before, many countries have spoken out regarding the fairness of vaccine distributions across the globe. Major vaccine producers, including the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and Europe, have shared portions of their own vaccine doses with the world, but sharing is unequal. Although COVAX is largely funded by wealthier countries, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the money “doesn’t mean anything” if wealthy countries are not willing to share more vaccines, cited from Politico. This statement came in response to the February G7 Leaders’ Statement, which promised new funding pledges for COVAX but not necessarily vaccines.


With the current number of COVAX vaccines, the majority of African countries hope to vaccinate at least 20% of their populations by 2022. This number is still far from the 60-70% required for herd-immunity, but many countries are grateful to simply have started vaccinating their citizens. Monica Musenero, a Ugandan presidential advisor and epidemiologist, stated, “we can advocate for more vaccines, but we should also appreciate what we’ve got,” cited from AP News.


Still, having the vaccines will not be enough; many political leaders are working to increase public confidence in the vaccines as well. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari received his first COVID-19 vaccine dose on March 6. In a statement from Reuters, Buhari said, “As a demonstration of leadership and faith in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, I have received my first jab and I wish to commend it to all eligible Nigerians to do the same so that we can be protected from the virus.”