Apress release from the WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF on the COVAX facility’s success in getting vaccines to 100 countries by April 8 is impressive news for the efforts of the WHO, GAVI, CEPI, UNICEF and their supporters to get vaccines to low- and middle-income countries as part of the effort to have vaccine distribution done equitably and affordably. See Press Relase from WHO, Gavi, CEPI, UNICEF, COVAX reaches over 100 economies, 42 days after first international delivery, April 8, 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/covax-reaches-over-100-economies-42-days-after-first-international-delivery#:~:text=The%20milestone%20comes%2042%20days,Ghana%20on%20February%2024th.&text=Of%20the%20over%20100%20economies,Advance%20Market%20Commitment%20(AMC). The press release is embedded below.COVAX reaches over 100 economies, 42 days after first international delivery | Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
While the release indicates that there will be delays in deliveries of vaccines in March and April because of increased COVID-19 cases in India, developments in India could mean an even greater delay in supplies than announced in March. For example, the major supplier of vaccines to COVAX in the first half of 2021 is the Serum Institute of India (“SII”) which is licensed by AstraZeneca to produce that vaccine in India for distribution in large part to COVAX. Yesterday, the president of SII indicated that export shipments could resume in June depending on cases levels in India. See Financial Times, India to restart Covid vaccine exports in June if local cases fall, April 7, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/fcdffb8f-f86e-4bd9-adec-20256aeb0a07. It doesn’t appear that SII has notified COVAX of a further delay past April, but a June resumption, if it occurs, suggests that delays will continue through May at a minimum.
The situation for SII is complicated by a need for expanded capacity. It has sought $400 million from the Indian government to ramp up production from 71 million to 100 million doses per month by May. See Fierce Pharma, ‘Very stressed’ Serum Institute asks government for $400M vaccine production boost, April 8, 2021, https://www.fiercepharma.com/manufacturing/very-stressed-serum-institute-india-asks-government-for-vaccine-production-boost.
Moreover, the refusal of SII to export doses to the United Kingdom, to COFAX and others has become the basis for a legal notice from AstraZeneca. See Times of India, Covid-19: AstraZeneca sends legal notice to SII over delays in vaccine supply, April 8, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/astrazeneca-sends-legal-notice-to-sii-over-delays-in-vaccine-supply/articleshow/81960902.cms. SII is also finding itself refunding moneys paid by countries who are not getting supplies. See Reuters, Serum Institute refunds S. Africa for undelivered AstraZeneca doses, April 8, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-safrica/serum-institute-refunds-south-africa-for-undelivered-astrazeneca-doses-idUSKBN2BV1TI.
While COVAX is looking to expand sources of vaccines, SII is the major source through June. Professor Simon Evenett has put out a one page analysis of the implications for supply to COVAX from SII if the resumption of exports is premised on India fully vaccinating all those willing to be vaccinated for whom the government of India has opened up vaccinations. While SII has not stated that resumption of exports is tied to full vaccination of Indians who are 45 years or older, Prof. Evenett’s paper is an interesting analysis of how long a delay could occur in terms of SII becoming a major exporter again. His paper entitled “Vaccine Maths 2: Will India start exporting COVID-19 vaccines again in June 2021?” is embedded below.
With the spread of the new variants of COVID-19 that have higher rates of transmission and higher rates of serious infection, many countries find themselves facing increased numbers of cases and increased hospitalizations and deaths even as vaccine supplies are increasing and vaccination roll outs starting in many countries. There is a lot of attention within multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO and by a number of countries on the needs for increased production and distribution to all countries. See, e.g., April 6, 2021, IMF April World Economic Outlook, IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings and U.S. efforts on global access to vaccines, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/06/imf-april-world-economic-outlook-imf-and-world-bank-spring-meetings-and-u-s-efforts-on-global-access-to-vaccines/. COVAX is an important part of the solution but it will need more funding and greater diversity of suppliers to meets its role in the equitable and affordable access to vaccines in 2021 and 2022.
- Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
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