Manufacturing issues plague efforts to immunize developing countries

May 27, 2021

The goal of Covax was lofty — dose all of the developing world’s healthcare workers with COVID-19 vaccines by this spring. But the Covax program, created in 2020 to help level the playing field for COVID-19 vaccines for about 100 of the world’s poorer countries, has faced a number of emerging challenges and fallen short of its aims. 

So far, the program has delivered about 72 million vaccine doses — a far cry from its goal of 238 million doses by the end of this month. 

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, a number of unforeseen factors have hampered its efforts.

As competition increased to buy newly approved vaccines on the global market last year, wealthier countries began locking in purchasing agreements for their own citizens, delaying plans to aid Covax.

By late last year, Covax did have soft agreements lined up for about 2 billion doses, yet many of the deals — with companies including Sanofi and Novavax — hit snags due to clinical trial and manufacturing delays. The situation left Covax with only one supplier on the hook: The Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, SII recently halted exports of the vaccine as India grapples with a new, deadly wave of the virus. 

Although the U.S. and EU have committed to contributing funds to Covax, the organization is having difficulty finding vaccines to buy. According to the WSJ, the situation is being partly fueled by shortages of raw materials that are leaving major manufacturers struggling to keep up with global demand. New deals with companies like Moderna are not expected to deliver doses until next year. 

Other contributions from the U.S. of 80 million vaccine doses and the EU for 100 million doses are expected soon, they are not likely to put a major dent in demand from countries relying on Covax to aid their inoculation drives.

So far, Covax has delivered just 4% of the 1.7 billion COVID-19 vaccines shipped worldwide.