The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about COVAX, an international initiative to secure COVID-19 vaccines for developing countries.
Question: I've heard of a scheme called COVAX in connection with the global distribution of coronavirus vaccines, but what does it do exactly?
Answer: Put simply, COVAX acts as a wholesaler of coronavirus vaccines. Under COVAX, vaccines are procured from pharmaceutical firms around the world, and are equitably sold to participating countries. Though developed countries like Japan, the United States, and European nations can negotiate on their own with pharmaceutical companies to buy vaccines, it is difficult for economically weaker countries to do the same. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other bodies launched COVAX, and about 190 countries and regions have joined the scheme. On Feb. 24, Ghana received the first vaccines to be delivered through COVAX.
Q: Has Japan joined COVAX?
A: Yes. The Japanese government has already arranged to secure vaccines through its own negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, but aims to contract many suppliers just in case. Japan's participation in COVAX also holds great political significance as it shows the country is pursuing international cooperation.
Q: Aren't there countries that are unable to pay for the vaccines?
A: Under COVAX, there is also a system where developed countries and private organizations pool money to secure vaccines for poor countries. To cover these costs, organizations behind COVAX are trying to collect $7 billion (about 760 billion yen) by the end of 2021. The United States will join COVAX under the new administration of President Joe Biden, and plans to contribute $2.5 billion to the program within the year. Japan has also promised $200 million.
Q: I hope vaccines will be delivered across the globe as soon as possible. Will this be possible with COVAX?
A: The COVAX initiative's goal for the time being is to vaccinate 20% of the world's population in 2021. Although health care workers will be able to receive priority vaccines, it is said that vaccination must be administered to 70% of the population to halt the spread of infections, and we are still very far from achieving this. Whether COVID-19 vaccines can be secured amid the global scramble to procure the doses is another challenge. Providing aid to developing countries is necessary beyond this year, and it is important to lend support as an international community.
(Japanese original by Mitsuyoshi Hirano, Johannesburg Bureau)