COVAX vaccine 2021 delivery target cut to 1.425 bln doses

A pack of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines is seen as the country receives its first batch of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines under COVAX scheme, at the international airtport of Accra, Ghana February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/File Photo
  • COVAX goal held back by India export restrictions
  • Gavi also cites lower output by Astra, J&J
  • Regulatory review of Clover, Novavax shots delayed
  • Gavi CEO says opposes wide use of booster shots

Sept 8 (Reuters) - The global programme providing COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries is on course to fall nearly 30 percent short of its previous goal of 2 billion shots this year, the international organisations running it said on Wednesday.

The head of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which sponsors the COVAX programme along with the World Health Organisation, Unicef and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), pleaded with rich countries to share more doses.

In a joint statement, the organisations blamed the decision to cut COVAX's target to 1.425 billion doses on a range of factors including export restrictions on the Serum Institute of India (SII), a major supplier.

Manufacturing problems at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) as well as delays in the regulatory review of shots developed by U.S. biotech firm Novavax (NVAX.O) and China's Clover Biopharmaceuticals also hurt supplies, they said.

"This is of course bad for the whole world as we’ve seen the dreadful consequences that take hold when the virus is left to roam unchecked," Gavi Chief Executive Seth Berkley told journalists in a briefing.

"We cannot afford further delays" while groups such as health care workers and the elderly still need protection in lower-income nations, he added.

The joint statement said the 2 billion dose milestone for COVAX was now projected to be hit in the first quarter of 2022.

More than 221 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 4.76 million have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Berkley said countries that had met their domestic needs should forfeit further volumes they had secured. Some rich countries are planning to administer third shots, over concerns that protection from the standard two-shot regimen is waning, but Berkley said there was no scientific validation for the need for such widespread booster shots.

"If we had unlimited supplies of vaccines, we often use vaccines off label, we can use them in experimental fashions, but I think right now we need to stick to where they're needed," he added.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Alistair Smout; editing by Jason Neely

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