Access to More Doses Holding Covax Back; Hope India Will Resume Vaccine Exports Soon: Gavi CEO

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With Covid-19 cases falling and domestic production of vaccines increasing, chief executive officer of Geneva-headquartered Gavi, Dr Seth Berkley, told News18.com that he “genuinely believes” India will resume vaccine exports soon. Seth said anything that is holding Covax back is “access to more doses” and Gavi “invested over a billion dollars” in India because of its vaccine production capacity. “This is why we are calling for countries to stop export bans, increase and accelerate donations…”

Gavi is a global private-public health partnership, which aims to ensure access to vaccines in the poorest countries.

Covax was launched last April by Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO), European Commission and France with the objective to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to lower- and middle-income countries.

The alliance had, in March, braced for a delay in Covid-19 vaccine deliveries from India’s Serum Institute of India, following the second wave in the country. In May, the body had said it expects India to resume deliveries soon even if they are in “reduced quantities”.

An American epidemiologist, Dr Berkley in an exclusive interview with News18.com, said, “India is a global vaccine powerhouse and the largest commercial supplier to Gavi’s routine vaccines with the potential to play a leading role in the international effort to contain Covid-19. That is why we invested over a billion dollars for Covid vaccine production in India.”

“Now that the domestic production has been successfully ramped up and India’s outbreak has lessened in intensity, it is our genuine belief that health security within India as well as globally would be better served by a resumption of exports of India-made vaccines to Covax alongside its national rollout so that we can protect as many vulnerable people as possible.”

Covax has delivered more than 270 million doses of vaccines to 141 countries, the majority of the world. “Only three countries: China, India and the United States, have delivered more.”

Lessons learnt from India-Pfizer indemnity roadblock

Several doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which were donated to India via Covax, are stuck between the central government and company’s talk over indemnity.

Learning lessons from such roadblocks, Gavi has been working on certain arrangements for upcoming donations.

“In order to remove bottlenecks in distribution, the Covax facility has been working with participating economies to ensure indemnity agreements are in place before Covax doses can be received,” he said.

“In the same spirit, all doses delivered through Covax to AMC-eligible economies, donated or procured, are covered by the COVAX No-Fault Compensation scheme. Innovations such as these are important in facilitating faster access to safe and effective vaccines.”

The compensation scheme provides fair, no-fault, lump sum compensation to eligible individuals who suffer certain serious adverse events after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine distributed through the Covax Facility until June 30, 2022.

Will Covax consider inclusion of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin?

According to Gavi’s chief, Covax’s portfolio of 11 vaccines and vaccine candidates is the largest and most diverse portfolio of vaccines in the world.

“Ensuring only safe and effective vaccines are deployed remains the top priority for Covax, which is why Covax only delivers vaccines once they have received an Emergency Use Listing or have been approved by one of the Stringent Regulatory Authorities,” Dr Berkley said without giving a clear answer.

He further said the “geographical diversity is an important consideration in our procurement strategy to avoid over-reliance on specific countries or regions, as happened earlier this year when there were only a small number of approved manufacturers.”

Does the Covax model work?

Dr. Berkley, who spearheaded the creation of Covax, said in the months since February when Coavax made its first international deployment, “we have proven that our system – designed to enable the largest and most complex vaccine delivery in history — is capable of working at scale.”

Gavi, he said, is also asking governments to join them in asking manufacturers to make their production schedules public, so that they can be sure Covax is not deprioritised in favour of further bilateral deals.

“We have proven that the Covax model works at scale, but it cannot succeed in its mission to help end the acute phase of the pandemic alone.”

The international community came together to support Covax one year ago and since then they have helped us raise over US $10 billion to procure vaccines, he added.

“If we are to have any chance at ending the pandemic and stopping further variants from emerging, we need those doses and we need them now.”

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