By Jennifer Rigby and Francesco Guarascio
LONDON (Reuters) – Leaders of the global program aimed at bringing COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest are urging manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna to cut or slow shipments of about half a billion shots in order to do so cans are not wasted.
COVAX, the program run by the World Health Organization, wants between 400 and 600 million fewer doses of vaccine than originally contracted by six pharmaceutical companies, according to internal documents seen by Reuters.
While the initiative initially struggled for shots as wealthy nations snapped up limited supplies, later in 2021 donations from the same countries, along with improved production by manufacturers – alongside supply problems and hesitant vaccination in a number of countries – have led to a flood of vaccines in the year 2022.
“COVAX has urged manufacturers to acknowledge the global oversupply situation and support concerted efforts to meet country needs in time and avoid unnecessary waste,” said a spokesman for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which co-leads the initiative with WHO .
Gavi wants manufacturers to either reduce the size of initial orders, or at least “upgrade” them, meaning they will be delivered at a later time that is more aligned with when countries need them.
Future negotiations could also include receiving the variant-specific vaccines currently being tested by manufacturers such as Moderna and Pfizer.
While Gavi is close to an agreement with some manufacturers, contract negotiations with other companies are not that far along, according to sources close to the talks. No deals have been agreed yet.
The biggest orders come from Moderna and Pfizer, alongside Serum Institute of India, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Clover Biopharmaceuticals.
“Being aware of local needs, we try to provide pragmatic solutions to inquiries whenever possible,” Pfizer said in an emailed statement, while Novavax said the status of its COVAX supplies is currently “unclear.” . Moderna said it has nothing to add at this point.
COVAX is following the steps of other vaccine buyers, including European Union governments, in an attempt to cut supplies agreed at the height of the pandemic. Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to delay some deliveries.
In total, COVAX has dispensed more than 1.5 billion doses over the last 18 months.
However, the original goals of contributing to the goal of vaccinating 70% of the population of every country in the world by this month have now effectively taken a back seat to protecting 100% of those most at risk – namely health workers and elderly people.
While 66.3% of the world’s population has now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the proportion drops to 17.8% in low-income countries, according to Our World In Data.
“What is critical now to the global response to the pandemic is not high dose volume, but tailored care and support for lower-income countries,” Gavi said.
Documents ahead of the organization’s board meeting this week, reviewed by Reuters, also show that COVAX is considering expanding its work to use “dose donations” from high-income countries to provide COVID-19 vaccines for children and in some countries also provide for adults the countries that the program supports.
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby in London and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, with additional reporting by Edward McAllister, Natalie Grover, editing by Mark Heinrich)