The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on September 21 that countries representing close to two-thirds of the world’s population have joined its plan to buy and fairly distribute COVID-19 vaccines around the globe. It also unveiled the mechanism through which it plans to allocate the vaccine as it becomes available, aiming “to end the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021.”
“It is a huge success to have equivalent to 64% of the world’s population signed up,” Alexandra Phelan, a lawyer at Georgetown University who specializes in global health policy, wrote in an email. “However, this doesn’t reflect the deeply unequal power dynamics in global health and vaccine manufacturing capabilities that may still challenge equitable access to vaccines.” China and the United States are notably absent from WHO’s list of partners in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, she and other observers noted.
With nearly 1 million deaths reported worldwide from COVID-19, and the Northern Hemisphere heading into its first winter in the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 still has the world in its grip. WHO has pushed countries to sign up for a plan that will buy a vaccine in huge quantities and distribute it in an equitable way. But it has been grappling with two big issues: how to get high-income countries to join, instead of hoarding early vaccine supplies for their own populations; and how to share the vaccine in a fair way once it becomes available.
“As of today, 64 higher income countries, including 29 economies operating as Team Europe, have submitted legally binding commitments to join the COVAX Facility,” Seth Berkley, head of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, said at the press conference. An additional 38 countries are expected to sign soon, he said. These countries will have access to the vaccines in the COVAX portfolio and will pay for their own doses. Lower income countries that have joined COVAX will have vaccine doses purchased for them; there are 92 such signers.Learn More