The place Covax, the Huge World Vaccine Program, Went Incorrect


Dr. Seth Berkley, the chairman of the board of directors of Gavi, the nonprofit at the heart of Covax, said insufficient early funding made supply bottlenecks inevitable. When such distribution problems arise in Chad and Benin, Covax tries “to move these vaccines to other countries, but then work with those countries to try to improve capacities,” he said.

Proponents and critics agree that the program needs to be improved quickly. In early July, confidential Covax documents said 22 nations, some with rising deaths, reported that they nearly or completely exceeded the program’s dose.

“The way Covax was packaged and branded, African countries thought it would be their salvation,” said Dr. Catherine Kyobutungi, who heads the African Population and Health Research Center. “If it didn’t live up to expectations, there was nothing else.”

In the hectic first few months of 2020, health professionals developed strategies to vaccinate the world fairly. Covax was the answer, bringing together two Gates-funded nonprofits, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). the World Health Organization; and UNICEF, who would lead the delivery effort. It hoped to be a major global vaccine buyer for both rich and poor countries, which gave it the clout to bully vaccine manufacturers.

But when rich nations agreed to donate, they did not make binding partners. Britain is negotiating for wealthier participants to get a selection of vaccines to buy through Covax, causing delays, said Kate Elder, senior vaccine advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign.

Most importantly, wealthy nations became rivals in a vaccine purchase race, paying rewards to get their own vaccinations while making slow financial commitments that Covax needed to sign contracts.