Los Angeles Times

Vaccine shortages spreading

Dozens of poor countries may be stalled at the first shots because of blocked deliveries.

- By Lori Hinnant and Maria Cheng Hinnant, reporting from Paris, and Cheng write for the Associated Press. AP writer Khaled Kazziha in Nairobi contribute­d to this report.

LONDON — As many as 60 countries, including some of the world’s poorest, might be stalled at the first shots of their COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns because nearly all deliveries through the global program intended to help them are blocked until as late as June.

COVAX, the global initiative to provide vaccines to countries lacking the clout to negotiate for scarce supplies on their own, last week shipped more than 25,000 doses to low-income countries only twice on any given day. Deliveries have all but halted since April 5.

During the last two weeks, according to data compiled daily by UNICEF, fewer than 2 million COVAX doses in total were cleared for shipment to 92 countries in the developing world.

On Friday, the head of the World Health Organizati­on slammed the “shocking imbalance” in global COVID-19 vaccinatio­n. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s said that while 1 in 4 people in rich countries had received a vaccine, only 1 in 500 people in poorer countries had gotten a dose.

The vaccine shortage stems mostly from India’s decision to stop exporting vaccines from its Serum Institute factory, which produces the overwhelmi­ng majority of the AstraZenec­a doses that COVAX counted on to supply around a third of the global population at a time when coronaviru­s infections are spiking.

COVAX will only ship vaccines cleared by the WHO, and countries are increasing­ly impatient. Supplies are dwindling in some of the first countries to receive COVAX shipments, and the expected delivery of second doses in the 12-week window currently recommende­d is now in doubt.

In a statement, the vaccine alliance known as GAVI said that 60 countries are affected by the delays.

In vaccinatio­n tents set up at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, many of those who arrived for their first shots were uneasy about when the second would arrive.

“My fear if I don’t get the second dose, my immune system is going to be weak, hence I might die,” said Oscar Odinga, a civil servant.

Internal WHO documents obtained by the AP show the uncertaint­y about deliveries “is causing some countries to lose faith in the COVAX” effort. That is prompting the WHO to consider speeding up its endorsemen­t of vaccines from China and Russia, which have not been authorized by any regulators in Europe or North America.

WHO documents show the United Nations agency is facing questions from COVAX participan­ts about allotments in addition to “uncertaint­y about whether all those who were vaccinated in Round 1 are guaranteed a second dose.”

The WHO declined to respond specifical­ly to the issues raised in the internal materials but has previously said countries are “very keen” to get vaccines as soon as possible and insisted it hasn’t heard any complaints about the process.

Concern over the link between the AstraZenec­a shot and rare blood clots has also “created nervousnes­s both around its safety and efficacy,” the WHO noted. Among its proposed solutions is a decision to “expedite review of additional products” from China and Russia.

The WHO said last month that it might be possible to greenlight the Chinese vaccines by the end of April. Some experts have noted that Sinopharm and Sinovac, two Chinese-made vaccines, lack published data, and there are reports of people needing a third dose to be protected.

“If there is something that we miss from not having thoroughly evaluated the risks of serious adverse events from these vaccines, that would undermine the confidence in all the good products that we’re using that we know are safe,” said Dora Curry, director of health equity and rights at CARE Internatio­nal.

Other experts worried that delays could erode faith in government­s that were particular­ly efficient in their vaccinatio­n programs and were counting on second doses soon.

“In the absence of high vaccinatio­n coverage globally, we risk dragging out the pandemic for several more years,” said Lavanya Vasudevan, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “Every day that the virus is in circulatio­n is an opportunit­y for it to mutate into a more deadly variant.”

This month, the WHO appealed to rich countries to share 10 million doses to meet the U.N. target of starting COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns in every country within the first 100 days of the year. So far, countries have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to COVAX. But there are no doses to buy, and no country has agreed to immediatel­y share what it has.

Bilateral donations of doses tend to go along political lines, rather than to countries with the most infections, and they aren’t nearly enough to meet the goals that COVAX has set out. Think Global Health, a data site managed by the Council on Foreign Relations, identified 19 countries that have donated a total of 27.5 million doses to 102 nations as of April 7.

“You can make a strong argument that we’re better off making donations in crisis and getting the pandemic under control than vaccinatin­g low-risk groups at home,” said Thomas Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said COVAX was both a great disappoint­ment and the only available option for most of the world.

According to the Internatio­nal Rescue Committee, COVID-19 cases and deaths last month surged in numerous crisis-hit countries: by 322% in Kenya, 379% in Yemen and 529% in northeaste­rn Syria.

Last week, the agencies behind COVAX — the WHO, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a coalition for epidemic preparedne­ss — celebrated their delivery of 38 million vaccines to more than 100 countries.

Brook Baker, a vaccines expert at Northeaste­rn University, said the laudatory message was misplaced.

“Celebratin­g doses sufficient for only 19 million people, or 0.25% of global population, is tone deaf,” he said, adding that it was time for the WHO and its partners to be more honest with countries.

“WHO and GAVI have repeatedly overpromis­ed and underdeliv­ered, so why should we believe that they will suddenly be able to ramp up production and deliveries in a couple of months?” he said.

Outside the vaccinatio­n tents in Nairobi last week, Dr. Duncan Nyukuri, an infectious disease physician, tried to reassure people getting their first doses.

“If you receive the first dose and you fail to receive the second dose, this does not mean that your body will be any weaker or you will be at an increased risk of getting any infection,” he said. “What it means is your body will have developed some immunity against the coronaviru­s infection. But this immunity is not as good as somebody who has received both doses.”

 ?? Rafiq Maqbool Associated Press ?? A LAB at the Serum Institute of India, which produces most of the AstraZenec­a doses that COVAX had been counting on to supply poor nations around the globe.
Rafiq Maqbool Associated Press A LAB at the Serum Institute of India, which produces most of the AstraZenec­a doses that COVAX had been counting on to supply poor nations around the globe.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States