The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced the signing of an advance purchase agreement securing up to 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine.
The agreement is coming under the UN-led COVAX equitable vaccine supply programme.
The UN health agency, in a statement posted on its website, stated that the rollout for the vaccine would commence with successful execution of supply agreement.
According to the statement, WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, disclosed the plan at COVID-19 news conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Ghebreyesus said pending emergency authorisation, close to 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine should also be available for COVAX to distribute, up to the end of March.
“Together, these announcements mean COVAX could begin delivering doses in February, provided we can finalise a supply agreement.
“The deal will also open the door for countries with spare doses, to donate them,’’ he said.
He said “The urgent and equitable rollout of vaccines was not just a moral imperative; it’s also a strategic and economic imperative.
“This agreement with Pfizer will help to enable COVAX to save lives, stabilise health systems and drive the global economic recovery.”
In addition, he said that UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was also playing a “vital role” in preparing countries for the delivery and rollout of vaccines.
The statement quoted UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, as saying, “These purchase agreements open the door for these lifesaving vaccines to become available to people in the most vulnerable countries.
“But at the same time we are securing vaccines, we must also ensure that countries are ready to receive them, deploy them, and build trust in them.”
It said the COVAX Facility would provide all 190 participating economies with an indicative allocation of doses by the end of January.
“This indicative allocation will provide interim guidance to participants – offering a minimum planning scenario to enable preparations for the final allocation of the number of doses each participant will receive in the first rounds of vaccine distribution.
“COVAX now has agreements in place to access just over two billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates.
“Negotiations continue for further doses to be secured through existing Research and Development agreements by COVAX co-lead the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), through evaluations of new products with promising results and through contributions from donors.’’
WHO said COVAX anticipated providing participating economies doses of safe and effective vaccines – enough to protect health care and other frontline workers as well as some high-risk individuals from first quarter.
It said “The aim is to protect at least 20 per cent of each participating population by the end of the year – unless a participant has requested a lower percentage of doses.
“At least 1.3 billion of these doses will be made available to the 92 economies eligible for the Gavi COVAX AMC by the end of 2021.
“To meet its goal of securing two billion safe and effective vaccines in 2021, COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates which mitigates the risk of a product failing development, production or regulatory processes, and ensures availability of products suitable for various contexts and settings.
“This work will continue at pace to enable further supply of vaccines suitable for use across a wide range of populations and settings in 2021 and beyond.’’
The statement, however, quoted Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, as saying, “the progress in vaccine development so far has been extraordinary.
“It is clear that we are now assembling the tools we need to bring the acute phase of the pandemic to an end. But we cannot afford to slow our efforts given the speed with which this pandemic continues to wreak havoc.
“The emergence of new variants of COVID-19 puts into sharp focus the need for us to be one step ahead of the virus by continuing to invest in vaccine Research and Development (R&D).
“It is important to invest in R&D, specifically for next-generation vaccine candidates and to be ready for strain changes in existing vaccines – to ensure we have the tools to meet the needs of all populations in all countries for the long term.”