The cautionary tale of the COVAX Facility

With every passing month, the unanticipated challenges facing the COVAX Facility mounts.

Take the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been reckoned as the backbone of the Facility. Rising hesitancy towards this vaccine in the EU and elsewhere because of rare incidents of blood clots, despite the safety of the vaccine vouched by regulators, is only one concern. Following production shortages in the EU that broke out earlier in the year, the barriers to access AZ doses continue – the latest being on account of Indian government’s decision to temporarily hold the export of the vaccine to quell the surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.

A press release issued by Gavi and WHO, on March 25th, said:

“Deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to lower-income economies participating in the COVAX Facility will face delays during March and April as the Government of India battles a new wave of COVID-19 infections. COVAX and the Government of India remain in discussions to ensure some supplies are completed during March and April.

According to the agreement between Gavi and the Serum Institute of India (SII), which included funding to support an increase in manufacturing capacity, SII is contracted to provide COVAX with the SII-licensed and manufactured AstraZeneca (AZ)-Oxford vaccine (known as COVISHIELD) to 64 lower-income economies participating in the Gavi COVAX AMC (including India), alongside its commitments to the Government of India.

To date, COVAX has been supplied with 28 million COVISHIELD doses and was expecting an additional 40 million doses to be available in March, and up to 50 million doses in April.”

Subsequently, Reuters reported that COVAX will likely receive full supply from Serum by May, citing UNICEF.

A concomitant number of factors have come to worsen an already bad situation for the global access to vaccines. Much of the world is now living through the failure of the political leadership at the global level in not anticipating production glitches associated with production of new vaccines. The recalcitrant position of the industry that has not tried to forge path-breaking solutions to meet the sheer proportion of the access challenge facing the world is hard to understand.

Image credit: Jeffrey Czum, Pexels


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