A ground-breaking global initiative to ease the health and economic impact of the pandemic means that poor countries will get access to COVID-19 vaccine in Africa

No one is safe until everyone is safe, because infectious diseases do not respect borders. To protect everyone, it’s important that all countries, rich and poor, should have access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s the mission of the ground-breaking COVAX global initiative - jointly led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Supported by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission, COVAX aims to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine across all economies.

“A fair and equitable distribution of the successful COVID-19 vaccines is key to tackling the pandemic and alleviating a dire situation in developing countries,” says Raffaele Cordiner, the European Investment Bank investment officer working on the project. “The joint effort of the European Investment Bank and the European Commission as Team Europe highlights the importance of the multilateral approach to solving global health issues. Europe has put together an innovative financial instrument that shows the kind of solidarity with our fellow humans that’s needed at this dangerous moment.”

The EU bank is investing €600 million in COVAX Advanced Market Commitment, the innovative financing instrument that will support the participation of 92 low- and middle-income countries in the COVAX Facility, providing an additional €200 million on top of the €400 million committed in December 2020. COVAX is the EIB’s largest ever support for global public health. This instrument enables these countries access to donor-funded doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Combined with additional support for country readiness and delivery led by Gavi and its Alliance partners, the World Health Organisation and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, COVAX will make sure the most vulnerable in all countries can be protected in the short term, regardless of income.

As well as its guarantee of fair access for every country, COVAX aims to accelerate development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines. It provides support for the deployment of vaccination campaigns, including the temperature-controlled supply chain required for an effective distribution of the vaccines.

Nearly 100 self-financing participant economies make a financial contribution to COVAX and pool resources for vaccine development and purchase. Meanwhile, 92 low- and middle-income economies have their participation in the model financially supported by donor contributions. These include countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood, where vaccines would otherwise be unaffordable. “This particularly stood out as a solidarity mission,” says Anna Lynch, a life sciences specialist at the European Investment Bank, who worked on the COVAX deal. “While we saw barriers going up around Europe to prevent the spread of infection, there was also a willingness to contribute to ensuring equitable access to vaccines.”

Half of the low-income countries and a quarter of middle-income countries face a high risk of serious economic impact due to COVID-19. The World Health Organisation estimates 132 million could be added to the world’s total of hungry people because of the impact of the pandemic.

“This crisis is unprecedented in terms of the global and synchronised nature of the impact,” says Debora Revoltella, the European Investment Bank’s chief economist. “Nearly all countries and regions of the world are affected. For all or most of these countries, it is one of the most severe blows to growth on record.”

>@Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance/CEPI/2020
© Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance/CEPI/2020

Equal access to vaccines for rich and poor

A vaccine is one of the best tools to overcome the impact of the pandemic on health and the economy.

COVAX is funding the development of a range of potential vaccines. It is supporting the manufacture of vaccines at scale and negotiating vaccine prices with manufacturers. COVAX’s investments enable manufacturers to expand manufacturing capacity immediately, producing the vaccine even while it is being evaluated in clinical trials and before it has a license. If the vaccine is successful, those doses will be available right away.

COVAX’s aim is to ensure that all countries can access doses of a safe and effective vaccine on roughly the same accelerated timeline. That’s essential to bring the pandemic under control and reduce its impact on economies, communities, individuals, trade, and travel.

In the acute phase of the pandemic, COVAX’s focus will be on securing sufficient supply and resources to provide all economies with vaccines to protect the most at-risk—health and social care workers, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Vaccines will be allocated equally between self-financing and Advanced Market Commitment-eligible economies, based on the WHO’s Fair Allocation Framework.

>@Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance/Christophe Da Silva
© Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance/Christophe Da Silva

Strength in unity

The European Investment Bank’s services worked “as fast as humanly possible” to structure and sign the COVAX deal, says the Bank’s Raffaele Cordiner. “There was remarkable cooperation and speed, so that we can end the acute phase of the pandemic and rebuild economies.”

The European Investment Bank’s latest loan of €200m is expected to be backed by a guarantee from the European Commission under the European Fund for Sustainable Development, which promotes a pro-active development aid policy and primarily supports investments in the EU neighbourhood and Africa, following the guarantee for the initial loan of €400m. This is in addition to €100 million of European Union support for COVAX.

This global approach to vaccination will enable social and economic recovery and reduce the chance of a resurgence of the disease. COVAX shows that there is truly strength in unity.