By Alexander Smith
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Senior COVAX officials remain bullish about hitting their 1.8 billion vaccine target this year, covering 3.3 percent of those populations. However, top supply chain analysts are skeptical.
“We don’t buy it,” said Andrea Taylor, assistant director of Duke Global Health Innovation Center, an authority on Covid-19 vaccine supply data.
The forecast assumes COVAX will be able to obtain almost every dose made this year by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine supplier by volume. But that manufacturer has signed deals with almost a dozen other countries, too.
“It may be they know things about their supply chain that we don’t know,” Taylor said. “But in terms of data that we do have access to, I don’t think their forecast for 2021 is realistic at all.”
In any case, the officials running COVAX are more eager to talk about the bigger picture.
They point out that without the program, the situation would be much grimmer for the world’s most vulnerable.
“It’s like you’ve ordered a big cake, and you look on your plate but nothing has arrived,” said Schreiber at UNICEF. “But it’s cooking, and the cake will come out, hopefully soon. And hopefully nobody will fall as the cake is coming from the kitchen to the table.”
Nothing like this has ever been attempted before, they say. And even after its sluggish and troubled start, vaccinating poor countries 12 months after the pandemic was declared looks like lightspeed when compared with any other global immunization program in history.
Most of all, Aylward at the WHO believes that initiatives like COVAX have dramatically shifted people’s expectations about what is ethically acceptable. Global access to medicine has always been deeply unfair — but this is the first time he’s seen such widespread calls for change in the way vital medicines and treatments are distributed.
“I’ve spent 30 years in international public health and disease eradication and I have never seen this,” he said. “The world is changing. It’s changing before our eyes, and that is fantastic. Because once you get there, you can’t go back.”