WHO hopes to have half a billion vaccine doses via COVAX scheme in first-quarter 2021

The World Health Organization hopes to have half a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution by the global COVAX initiative in the first quarter of 2021, Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a Geneva news conference, yesterday.

To date 189 countries have joined the COVAX programme, which is backed by the WHO and seeks to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines. The United States is not among them, having secured bilateral deals. The initial COVAX plan is to vaccinate 20% of populations at highest risk, including health workers and people aged over 65.

Soumya Swaminathan said that the goal is to get at least 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 which will be enough to vaccinate 20% of the populations of countries that are part of COVAX. This would be enough to bring to an end the acute phase of the pandemic by reducing mortality and the impact on health systems, she said.

WHO hopes that in the first quarter of 2021, about half a billion doses would be available to be distributed across the countries, in a fair manner, Swaminathan said. Towards the end of the first quarter of 2021, some countries can start expecting doses. It is likely that a few countries may start earlier, she said without elaborating.

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI vaccines alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).