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COVAX seen as crucial for putting end to pandemic

By He Weibao | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-12-21 09:24
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The first potential coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine developed in the southern hemisphere, called COVAX-19 and created by Adelaide company Vaxine Pty Ltd, is pictured at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, July 2, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The spread of COVID-19 has had a huge impact on all countries this year. As of Dec 18, more than 75 million cases of COVID-19 infections had been confirmed worldwide, and more than 1.67 million people have died of the disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused a great loss of life, but also severely damaged the global economy.

But now there is good news. With the approval and listing of several COVID-19 vaccines, many countries have begun or are preparing to start large-scale COVID-19 vaccinations. The use of COVID-19 vaccines will play a very important role in global control of the pandemic.

However, due to the different economic and technical conditions of various countries, there are still many developing countries and regions that do not have the ability to obtain the required vaccines. COVID-19 is a global challenge threatening everyone on the planet, regardless of country, ethnicity or race.

Due to globalization, all parts of the world are closely linked. In this case, if only some countries can control the COVID-19 pandemic through vaccines, the coronavirus still can enter these countries from other countries. Thus it is difficult for human beings to finally defeat this scourge. In order to solve this problem, the international community needs to effectively implement the COVAX initiative.

COVAX, formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, aims to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines through global cooperation and ensure that all countries can obtain the vaccines in a fair and reasonable manner. This project is co-led by the World Health Organization, Gavi (the vaccine alliance), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

In April, in order to respond to the pandemic, the WHO, the European Commission and some other partners jointly launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, whose goal is to provide innovative and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. COVAX is the vaccine pillar of this project.

The core of COVAX is the centralized procurement and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Its basic idea is to build a global platform to provide support for the development and production of various COVID-19 vaccines. By pooling the vaccine demand and purchasing power of participating countries, and by investing in vaccine manufacturers and placing orders, it enables vaccine manufacturers to make investments in vaccine research and development, expand production capacity, and produce vaccines on a large scale, so that relevant countries can obtain safe and effective vaccines in time and reduce the price of vaccines.

China, which has the biggest population in the world, formally joined COVAX in October. The nation's participation will allow this project to have wider global coverage and representativeness, which can attract more countries to join COVAX. In addition, China joined this project as a self-financing country, which allows COVAX to help poorer countries. China's decision to join COVAX has been positively received and highly praised by the international community.

The initial goal of COVAX is to obtain and distribute 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. This amount can enable about 20 percent of the population of participating countries to achieve immunization and help end the acute phase of the pandemic, thereby helping to curb COVID-19's further spread worldwide.

On Dec 18, the WHO announced that COVAX has agreements in place to access nearly 2 billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates, and first deliveries are anticipated to begin in the first quarter of 2021. This is undoubtedly encouraging news.

However, COVAX still faces some big challenges.

First, the vaccines it received through agreements are candidate vaccines that are under development, and there is uncertainty about when these vaccines will be approved for use. At the same time, the production capacity of global vaccine manufacturers is limited. Some developed countries are rushing to buy vaccines, and the vaccine doses they obtain even exceed their own populations. This may affect COVAX's access to the vaccines it needs.

Second, the delivery of the vaccines has relatively high requirements. Some countries and regions lack cold-chain transportation and other conditions that can ensure the safety of the vaccines, which will inevitably affect the implementation of COVAX's plan.

Finally, COVAX needs to raise more funds in 2021 to achieve its goal, which will not be an easy task.

Therefore, the international community still needs to make great efforts, and international agencies such as the WHO still need to actively play a leading and coordinating role to ensure that the COVAX initiative can be successfully implemented. This is crucial for the world to end the pandemic.

The author is an assistant researcher at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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