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Rich countries getting new vaccine before poorer ones

NEW DELHI (AP) – The company behind a COVID-19 vaccine touted as a key tool for the developing world has sent tens of millions of doses to wealthy nations but provided none yet to the United Nations (UN)-backed effort to supply poorer countries, a sign that inequity persists in the global response to the pandemic.

A quarter-million doses from the company were supposed to be available to the vaccine-sharing initiative, called COVAX, by March. But the UN agency in charge of deliveries said the first shipments now likely won’t be made until April or May.

The company, Novavax, got USD388 million from one of the organisations leading COVAX to fast-track the vaccine’s development and help make the shot available in poorer countries.

The investment guaranteed COVAX the “right of first refusal” to the first Novavax doses, but the deal applied only to factories in the Czech Republic, South Korea and Spain’ said spokesman for COVAX co-founder CEPI Bjorg Dystvold Nilsson. There are other factories that aren’t part of the deal – and their shots are going elsewhere. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has manufactured millions of Novavax doses.

According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the institute, more than 28.9 million of those doses were sent to the Netherlands in January and February, while Australia received about six million doses. Indonesia also received about nine million doses in December.

Thousands of other Novavax doses were also shipped from a Netherlands factory to other European Union countries.

The delay is the latest setback for COVAX, which has been repeatedly hit by supply problems and has missed numerous targets to share doses.

Vaccine availability has been improving in poorer regions recently, but logistical problems persist.

According to data from Oxford University, only about 14 per cent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 680 million doses of COVAX-provided vaccines remain unused or have expired, according to government data.

A worker moves boxes carrying Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine at SK Bioscience Co in Andong, South Korea. PHOTO: AP