Geneva: Gavi, which co-leads the Covax global vaccine distribution programme, decided to begin winding down the project that has shipped nearly two billion Covid jabs in under two years.
Gavi said its board agreed during a two-day meeting in Geneva this week to phase out Covax after 2023, but to continue providing Covid jabs after that to poorer countries through more routine programmes. “While Covax continues to have in place plans for worst-case scenarios, the board agreed, in principle, to explore integrating future Covid-19 vaccinations into Gavi’s core programming,” it said in a statement.
The Gavi vaccine alliance has taken the lead on the Covax initiative, alongside the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The global scheme has so far shipped more than 1.86 billion Covid vaccines to 146 territories, with the main focus on providing donor-funded jabs to the 92 weakest economies.
“The support is continuing in 2023,” Gavi’s head of resource mobilisation Marie-Ange Saraka-Yao said. “Then of course, depending on how the pandemic evolves, the plan will be to really bring it into the more regular programme,” she said, adding that this was what countries were asking for. “It doesn’t disappear, but it is really integrated.”
Acute pandemic phase ‘fading’
This would allow people to combine getting a Covid jab with receiving other vaccines, helping to counter the “backsliding” in routine vaccination since the start of the pandemic. It could also drive up demand for Covid jabs, Saraka-Yao said. “We think that’s actually the best way to improve and to accelerate the demand,” she said.
Covax was launched in June 2020, when few could have imagined that several highly effective vaccines would emerge within nine months. Historically, the vast majority of potential vaccines fail. Covax was created to help counter the stark disparity in access to the jabs that arose as wealthy countries scrambled to secure large stashes of various vaccines being developed.
While massive efforts have been made through the programme, a yawning gap remains in vaccination rates between the richest and poorest countries. Three-quarters of people in high-income countries have received at least one Covid vaccine dose, but fewer than a third of people in low-income countries have, according to a UN dashboard. Nine countries still have Covid vaccine coverage below 10 percent.
Despite the remaining coverage gaps, the decision to begin phasing out Covax was not completely unexpected. “It is acknowledging that the acute phase (of the pandemic) seems to be fading,” Saraka-Yao said, stressing that the focus was on “flexibility”, and that there was enough “capacity to continue fully in 2024.”
In a bid to boost countries’ resilience and increase preparedness for future pandemics, the Gavi board also approved a plan to support the development of regional vaccine manufacturing.