COVAX: Why Biden’s billions won’t fix Covid vaccine inequality worldwide


By Alexander Smith

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“We need to reframe this entire discussion. What will help Americans the most is not vaccinating every American first,” one expert said.

It seemed like a windfall in the campaign to vaccinate the world.

President Joe Biden last week announced $4 billion for a humanitarian program called COVAX — short for Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access plan — which aims to fairly distribute vaccines between rich countries and the developing world.

But in more than a dozen interviews, current and former officials involved with COVAX and experts with detailed knowledge of the plan suggest Biden’s mountains of cash and rhetorical support will not address the real reasons behind the dire state of global vaccine inequality.

COVAX’s efforts have been throttled not by a lack of money but a lack of supply. And so far the limited doses that are being made have mostly gone to the U.S. and other rich countries.

As it stands, parts of Africa, South America and Asia will not achieve widespread immunization until 2023 at the earliest, according to a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit research group.

In a deeply unfair fight, COVAX has struggled to compete with its own largest donors — wealthy nationalistic governments whose ruthless tactics rarely match their altruistic rhetoric.

Some critics say Biden is repeating some of the same moves: pledging money and words to COVAX, but with the other hand grabbing the scarce supplies that it desperately needs.

“There is a sense that we’ve made some progress, from the U.S. giving no vaccines at all to it giving $4 billion — but that doesn’t go far enough,” Sharifah Sekalala, an associate professor of global health law at England’s University of Warwick, said. “We need to reframe this entire discussion. What will help Americans the most is not vaccinating every American first.”

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