An international program set up to get coronavirus vaccines to the world delivered 20 million vaccine doses to 20 countries in the first week of distribution, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general, said Friday.
“This was a landmark week for COVAX with the first vaccinations starting in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire,” Tedros told a news conference. “In total, COVAX has delivered 20 million doses of vaccine to 20 countries.”
Next week, COVAX will deliver 14.4 million vaccine doses to an additional 31 countries, Tedros said, bringing the total number of countries reached by COVAX to 51.
COVAX is a global vaccine initiative run by a coalition that includes the Vaccine Alliance known as Gavi and WHO, and is funded by donations from governments, multilateral institutions and foundations. Its mission is to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations that can’t compete with wealthy countries in securing contracts with the major drug companies.
On Wednesday, Ghana became the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX. Ghana received 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Wednesday, according to CNN.
In addition to Ghana and Ivory Coast, Angola, Cambodia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Moldova, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda also received vaccine doses from COVAX this past week, Tedros said.
While the announcement is reason for some optimism, there is urgent need to increase production if COVAX is to meet its goal of delivering 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021, Tedros said.
“This is encouraging progress,” Tedros said. “But the volume of doses being distributed through COVAX is still relatively small. The first round of allocations covers between 2 and 3% of the population of countries receiving vaccinations through COVAX, even as other countries make more rapid progress toward vaccinating their entire population within the next few months. One of our main priorities now is to increase the ambition of COVAX now to help all countries end the pandemic. This means urgent action to ramp up production.”