The COVAX program to ensure equitable worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday published its first distribution list, with enough doses for countries to immunize more than 3 percent of their populations by mid-2021.
The distribution plan comes with lower-income countries falling behind in the vaccination race — a problem COVAX was set up to address.
It broke down how the program’s initial 337.2 million doses will be distributed, with first deliveries expected in late February.
Some 145 countries are set to receive enough doses to immunize 3.3 percent of their collective population by mid-2021, COVAX said.
The initial distribution is in line with a target “to protect the most vulnerable groups such as health-care workers” in the first half of the year.
“Soon we’ll be able to start delivering life-saving vaccines globally — an outcome we know is essential if we’re to have any chance of being able to beat this pandemic,” said Gavi Alliance chief executive Seth Berkeley.
COVAX is co-led by the World Health Organization, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Countries will receive doses in proportion to population, with the most going to India (97.2 million), Pakistan (17.2 million), Nigeria (16 million), Indonesia (13.7 million), Bangladesh (12.8 million) and Brazil (10.6 million).
Other big recipients are Ethiopia (8.9 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (6.9 million), Mexico (6.5 million), the Philippines (5.6 million) and Egypt (5.1 million).
WHO immunization program coordinator Ann Lindstrand said priority was given to countries that had not started vaccinating, while health worker deaths in January were also factored in. For the 92 lower- and lower-middle income economies involved in COVAX, funding is covered through donations, while for richer countries, buying into bulk purchases operates like a back-up insurance policy for their own vaccination programs.
The first wave distribution list includes 240 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, licensed to the Serum Institute of India; 96 million advance-purchased AstraZeneca/Oxford doses; and 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Both vaccines require two doses. Pfizer/BioNTech is the only vaccine to have received emergency use approval from the WHO. Evaluation is under way for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.
Berkeley said although they were “impatient … to get these doses out, there are conditions that must be in place.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech doses which require special ultra-cold storage, are destined for 18 countries by the end of March, with Colombia, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea and Ukraine getting the most at 117,000 doses each.
The other scheduled recipients are Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Georgia, Maldives, Moldova, Mongolia, the Palestinian Territories, Rwanda and Tunisia.
The first round list, including both vaccine types, is subject to change but should allow countries to plan ahead.
Some wealthy self-financing countries were on the list, including South Korea (2.6 million doses) and Canada (1.9 million).
Around 190 countries are in COVAX, which aims to secure enough shots for at least the most vulnerable 20 percent in participating countries by the end of 2021.