It is the last day of 2020; a year that would no doubt take a prominent place in the history books of almost every country on the planet. But even as the world continues to fight a health crisis, with the successful development of the COVID-19 vaccines recently, there has been a great deal of hope that the virus would eventually be contained.
Scientists, health partners and policy makers have been relentless in their efforts to develop and test vaccines to fight the virus; which was done in record time. Quite a few vaccines have already been granted approval or are close to the stage of being approved for use. In some countries, the vaccines have already been administered to priority groups, and many are optimistic about the results. Through various international agreements and partnerships, developing countries such as Guyana now have hope that they too can access the vaccines, which are very crucial in containing the spread of the virus. A few days ago, COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level, announced that it had arrangements in place to access nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates on behalf of 190 participating economies. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for the vast majority of these deals, COVAX has guaranteed access to a portion of the first wave of production, followed by volume scales as further supply becomes available. WHO says the arrangements announced would enable all participating economies to have access to doses in the first half of 2021, with first deliveries anticipated to begin in the first quarter of 2021 – contingent upon regulatory approvals and countries’ readiness for delivery.
Given that these are arrangements for 2 billion doses of vaccine candidates, which are still under development, COVAX will continue developing its portfolio. This will be critical to achieving its goal of securing access to 2 billion doses of safe and effective, approved vaccines that are suitable for all participants’ contexts, and available by the end of 2021.
The new deals include the signing of an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of the Janssen candidate, which is currently being investigated as a single dose vaccine.
These deals are in addition to existing agreements COVAX has with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for 200 million doses – with options for up to 900 million doses more – of either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Novavax candidates, as well as a statement of intent for 200 million doses of the Sanofi/GSK vaccine candidate.
In Guyana, the health authorities must be commended for the initiatives they have taken to prepare this country for the rollout of the vaccines. This process will require careful logistical planning and management, and also specialised resource capacity. The Minister of Health has already stated that the necessary cold-storage facilities required to store the vaccines are being put in place. The Ministry has also published bids for private contractors to procure and install refrigerators and vaccine carriers, which must be completed before Guyana receives its first quota of the COVID-19 vaccines in a matter of weeks.
Like WHO and other health partners, we believe that the recent announcements by COVAX offer the clearest pathway yet to end the acute phase of the pandemic, by protecting the most vulnerable populations around the world.
As stated by Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the arrival of vaccines is giving all of us a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. However, he was correct to point out that “we will only truly end the pandemic if we end it everywhere at the same time, which means it’s essential to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries”.
Important to note too, he said, is that we must remember that “vaccines will complement, but not replace, the many other tools we have in our toolbox to stop transmission and save lives”. Guyana and all other countries must continue to use all of these tools to ensure that the virus is stopped in its tracks.