Geneva, 26 June 2020 – The Gavi Board has shown support for a mechanism that could help guarantee rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines on a global scale, following the biannual Board meeting held virtually today.
The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) aims to pool demand and resources toward securing access to future supply of COVID-19 vaccines. All countries are invited to participate in the COVAX Facility. Gavi is continuing to work closely with stakeholders to complete the design of the Facility, including ways to raise the necessary funding. The Board was encouraged by what has been achieved so far, putting together the building blocks of the Facility, and raised points around equity, risk and financing that will be incorporated into the design, as well as governance that will be finalised in the summer.
Within the COVAX Facility, an innovative financing instrument – the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) launched at the Global Vaccine Summit on 4 June – is being used to secure access to timely and sufficient supply of vaccines for developing countries.
“Our absolute priority is to ensure those at risk in the world’s most vulnerable countries don’t miss out on COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Gavi Board. “The Gavi Board made important points on how to take these efforts forward, emphasising the need to ensure access is truly global. That’s why we are working at breakneck speed to make sure the right incentives, financing and safeguards are in place to guarantee vaccines are available worldwide, not just to those with the deepest pockets. This will take an unprecedented global effort, but then these are unprecedented times.”
The Gavi Board, which met virtually during 24-25 June, also discussed the role that Gavi will play in an expansion in cold-chain capacity in developing countries to help them prepare for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccine refrigerators and cold stores will be needed to deploy COVID-19 vaccines. This cold chain capacity could also be used to store and deploy COVID-19 diagnostics and treatments, depending on the tools developed. Gavi is already engaging with manufacturers to identify which products may be needed and how manufacturing capacity can be scaled up at speed.
“The world’s attention right now is on the race to find effective COVID-19 vaccines that might help us end this pandemic or at least bring it under control,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Gavi is working hard, through its COVAX AMC, to ensure there will be enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure people in the world’s poorest countries don’t miss out when the vaccines become available. But vaccines do not deliver themselves. Alongside the enormous research and manufacturing effort needed to make the vaccines a reality, we also need an unprecedented logistical effort to ensure the infrastructure is in place to allow these vaccines to reach the most vulnerable communities across the globe.”
There are several variables in the profile of COVID-19 vaccines that could impact how cold chain capacity will need to be developed and expanded, for instance whether it needs to be stored at temperatures of between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, as the majority of current vaccines do, or freezing temperatures reaching minus 80 degrees as is the case for an Ebola vaccine. Gavi will refine plans for cold chain expansion in the coming months as the vaccine product profiles become known.
As well as discussions on COVID-19 vaccines, several other decisions were made during the two-day virtual Board meeting, many of which are designed to mitigate the unprecedented disruption the pandemic is causing to immunisation programmes worldwide. COVID-19 is having a significant impact on an already stretched health workforce, while uptake for immunisation is also impacted due to challenges in accessing health facilities as well as rumours and community mistrust towards immunisation. Nearly half of countries in Africa have partially or entirely suspended outreach activities.