Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, will receive about 200 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in a deal that could eventually boost a flagging campaign to vaccinate the world’s poorest countries.
Gavi, the public-private health partnership co-leading Covax, will purchase the doses at a discounted price from Johnson & Johnson. Gavi said that the goal is to supply the doses this year.
But it was not clear how quickly those doses will start being delivered or whether they can help turn around the struggling Covax program. Jake Sargent, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, said the company is “striving to deliver vaccine doses as quickly as possible.”
Only 71 million doses have been shipped out so far through the Covax program, the vast majority of which have been of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine. That’s far short of the goal of allocating 237 million doses to participating countries by the end of May that the World Health Organization, another co-leader of Covax, had set in March.
The program’s struggles are one factor among many in the growing gap in vaccination coverage between the world’s rich and poor. Only 0.3 percent of the vaccine doses administered globally have been given in the 29 poorest countries, home to about 9 percent of the world’s population. Covax has been underfunded and behind schedule even before it faced its most significant blow last month when India, facing a devastating coronavirus crisis, halted vaccine exports. That meant that Covax could no longer receive doses from its major supplier, the Serum Institute of India. The Serum Institute signaled this week that it would not be able to provide vaccines beyond India before the end of this year.
And the world is nowhere close to having the 11 billion doses that are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population, the rough threshold needed for herd immunity, researchers at Duke University estimate. While global production is difficult to measure, the analytics firm Airfinity estimates the total so far at 1.7 billion doses.
The massive shortfall in supply has left low-income countries increasingly dependent on donations from wealthy countries. President Biden has pledged to donate 80 million doses of vaccines, most from AstraZeneca, and some of which are expected to be given through Covax. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday that the bloc aims to donate 100 million vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries this year.
Other vaccine makers have also said they would step up supply to low-income countries as they fight a push, supported by the Biden administration, to increase vaccine supply by waiving intellectual property protections on Covid vaccines. Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, said on Friday that the company expects to deliver two billion doses of its vaccine to developing countries in the next 18 months. That projection reflects existing deals with governments, anticipated future agreements and Pfizer’s pledge to supply 40 million doses to Covax.
Prashant Yadav, a management scientist who specializes in health care supply chains, wrote in a guest essay in The New York Times this week that the Covax shortfall shows how the world has become too dependent on India for vaccines. Based on data from the Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy, Mr. Yadav calculated that more than 65 percent of all doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced globally by April had been manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
“Building up vaccine-manufacturing capacity in new locations, and creating a more decentralized and more transparent network worldwide, will be expensive, of course. And that, in turn, is likely to raise the price of vaccines,” he wrote. “But the cost of developing resilience is a small burden to bear compared to the losses that India and other countries short of vaccines are suffering today.”