World Bank, COVAX unveil plan to speed vaccine supplies to developing countries

A nurse prepares to administer the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine under the COVAX scheme at the Eka Kotebe General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 13, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) - The World Bank and the COVAX global vaccine distribution program unveiled on Monday a financing mechanism to speed the supply of doses to developing countries, where COVID-19 inoculation rates lag far behind those of richer nations.

The mechanism allows COVAX to make advance purchases - at more competitive prices - from vaccine manufacturers based on aggregated demand across countries, using financing from the World Bank and other multilateral development banks.

"Accessing vaccines remains the single greatest challenge that developing countries face in protecting their people from the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," World Bank President David Malpass said.

"This mechanism will enable new supplies and allow countries to speed up the purchase of vaccines. It will also provide transparency about vaccine availability, prices, and delivery schedules," he said in a statement.

The World Bank's agreement with COVAX, which is backed by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), will help low- and middle-income countries access additional doses of vaccines, on top of the fully-subsidized doses they are already receiving.

The new mechanism comes amid growing alarm about the slow pace of vaccinations in low-income countries.

Only 1.1% of people in these countries have received at least one dose, compared to 26.9% of the total world population, according to figures from Our World in Data.

Global health experts warn that the pandemic will continue to spread and spawn new variants until larger numbers of people across the globe are vaccinated.

The new arrangement calls for countries that already have World Bank-approved vaccine procurement projects to request vaccine purchases through COVAX, and ask the World Bank to pay the costs on their behalf using the existing project financing.

World Bank confirmation will mitigate risks and uncertainties in demand and financing, allowing COVAX to buy larger amounts of doses from manufacturers at better prices.

COVAX recently cleared the way for 92 low- and middle-income countries to purchase their own vaccine doses, in addition to receiving shipments paid for by other donors.

COVAX plans to make available up to 430 million additional vaccine doses under its Advance Market Commitment (AMC) program through late 2021 and mid-2022.

Countries will have the opportunity to select and commit to procuring specific vaccines aligned with their preferences under the AMC program.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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