Starting shots in poor nations by February hinges on vaccine suppliers: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday redoubled pleas for vaccine makers to provide COVID-19 shots to its COVAX programme for poor nations, as an adviser said hopes of starting inoculations by February hinge on access to supplies.

FILE PHOTO: Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organisation (WHO) attends a news conference of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Covid-19 about its investigation of the coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, China, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The COVAX facility, backed by the WHO, GAVI the vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has raised $6 billion so far, and ordered 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with options on 1 billion more.

With nations including China, the United States, Israel and others dominating early deliveries, however, the WHO fears scant remaining stockpiles could leave 92 lower- and lower-middle income nations out in the cold when it comes to vaccinating their medical workers in the COVAX programme’s initial round.

“We expect, and we have strong confidence that we should be able to begin vaccinating in February in these countries,” WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward told a press conference on Monday.

“But we cannot do that on our own. We require the cooperation of vaccine manufacturers to prioritise deliveries to the COVAX facility,” he said.

More than 40 countries have begun vaccinating against COVID-19 with a growing number of shots, from Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, as well as vaccines developed in Russia and China.

“All of that vaccination, or virtually all, was in high-income or middle-income countries so far,” Aylward said. “We have got to see vaccines going into arms in lower and lower-middle income countries.

According to Reuters data, China has administered the most shots, at about 9 million, followed by 6.7 million in the United States and 1.8 million in Israel. (

Aylward held out optimism that limited COVAX vaccinations in poor nations could even start this month.

“But again, that requires the cooperation of a lot of other players,” he said. “Right now, we have an inequitable situation.”

Reporting by Emma Farge, Stephanie Nebehay and John Miller; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Alison Williams