Deaths from COVID-19 were rising across Africa in June, when 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine arrived in Chad. The distribution was proof that COVAX, a United Nations-backed program to immunize the world, could get the most desirable vaccines to the least developed countries.
Yet five weeks later, Chad’s health minister said, 94,000 doses remained unused.
Near Benin, only 267 shots were being given each day, a pace so slow that the program ran out of 110,000 AstraZeneca doses. Across Africa, confidential documents from July indicate, the program was monitoring at least nine countries where it said doses intended for the poor were at risk of worsening this summer.
The vaccine pileup reflects one of the most serious unrecognized problems facing the vaccination program: the difficulty of getting doses from airport tarmac into people’s arms.
Covax was supposed to be a global powerhouse, a multibillion-dollar coalition of international health bodies and nonprofits that would ensure that poor countries get vaccines as quickly as rich ones. Instead, it has struggled to achieve the dosage: it is half a billion short of its target.
Run by a non-profit funded by the Gates Foundation, Kovax is delivering vaccines faster to poorer countries than ever before. It also developed a system to compensate people for severe post-vaccination reactions and to protect vaccine manufacturers from legal liability.
Even then, 163 million doses It has distributed – to the poorest countries, countries like the rest of Canada that have made their payments – a far cry from the plan to provide at least 640 million doses so far.
Now, poor countries are dangerously vulnerable because the delta version of the virus runs rampant, the same scenario Covax was created to prevent. And the longer the virus spreads, the more dangerous it can become, even for wealthy countries.