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COVAX faces setback in vaccine distribution

BY: Kweku Zurek
COVAX faces setback in vaccine distribution
COVAX faces setback in vaccine distribution

Countries relying on the COVAX scheme to vaccinate their citizens against the COVID-19 pandemic will have to make alternative arrangements after the Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest single supplier to the scheme said shipments would only resume at the end of this year.

The scheme was set up last year to try to ensure fair access to vaccines among rich and poor nations but the SII has made none of its planned shipments since exports were suspended in March as a result of India's COVID-19 health crisis.

More than 49 million vaccine doses have been delivered through COVAX so far but there were no shipments for March, April or May after a deadly second wave of infections in India.

The SII in a media statement yesterday said it had scaled-up manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccines but it would prioritise India.

“We delivered more than 200 million doses even though the firm received EUA (emergency use authorisation) two months after US pharma companies. If we look at total doses produced and delivered, we rank among the top three in the world,” said the CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawalla.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritise India. We also hope to start delivering to COVAX and other countries by the end of this year,” he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

COVAX is co-led by the WHO, the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), with the UN children's fund, Unicef, buying and distributing the vaccines.

Booster jab

Ghana is set to resume its vaccination programme today after the administration of the second dose which was due during the last week of April was postponed because of the delay in the arrival of the vaccines under the COVAX facility.

Ghana became the first country to get a second delivery of vaccines from the COVAX scheme.

The 350,000 AstraZeneca Plc vaccines made by the SII arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo which gave up 1.3 million Covid shots to other countries due to its inability to distribute them before their expiry.

Ghana was the first country to receive the COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility in February and like many countries benefiting from the scheme it faced a dilemma in getting the second dose after the SII stopped exporting the vaccines.

It had only taken delivery of 600,000 out of an expected 2.4 million doses, when India’s export restrictions affected supplies to 60 countries, including 38 in Africa, according to the vaccine group, Gavi.

The second phase of vaccination would now take place from May 19 to May 26.

Ghana's initial plan was to vaccinate 20 million residents, about two-thirds of the population, by the end of October 2021.