The COVAX state of play

COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Montreal, Canada. Reuters

COVID-19 vaccine nationalism has overshadowed an ambitious cross-border initiative to fight a virus that knows no borders: the COVAX Facility, which aims to ensure that no country gets left behind in the vaccine race. As some developed nations have already started rolling out vaccines, citizens of other countries — especially billions throughout the developing world — wonder when it'll be their turn to roll up their sleeves. The answer depends largely on the long-term fate of COVAX, which in turn rests on resolving three major issues.

First, COVAX needs time. Established in June and coordinated by the World Health Organization, the Gavi global vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, COVAX pools contributions from governments, international organizations, the private sector and other partners to help drug manufacturers achieve scale by promising to buy up all their vaccines and then directs them toward cash-strapped countries that otherwise can't afford to buy enough doses for its people.

COVAX says it's on track to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of next year — enough to inoculate at least 20 percent of the population in 192 countries, including 92 of the world's poorest nations. But the scheme has also come under scrutiny after an internal review showed that it may leave some developing countries with no vaccines at all until 2024.

Part of the problem is that COVAX relies on at least nine cheap vaccine candidates that are still in phase III clinical trials, excluding the more expensive Pfizer and Moderna drugs. However, while it may take COVAX longer to get vaccines, the ones it wants are better suited to the developing world. Gavi has described the drug being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca as a potential game-changer, because it's affordable and requires only basic refrigeration, as opposed to Pfizer's vials that need ultra-cold storage.

Second, COVAX needs American and Chinese help. The Trump administration rejected participation in the project, while Beijing initially dragged its feet but finally joined in October — at least partly to single out the US as a major outlier on global cooperation, and to repair China's image following its cover-up of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

Although President-elect Joe Biden has yet to say how (and how much, which depends on Congress) the US might help, having the US on board would provide a boost of confidence and resources for COVAX. China, on the other hand, is in a tough spot given its own diplomatic campaign to make Chinese-made vaccines available to allies and clients in the developing world, so Beijing must follow up with strong financial commitments to show that its presence is more than a PR stunt.

Third, COVAX needs (more) cash. The internal review report noted that COVAX requires an additional $5 billion on top of the $2.1 billion it has raised so far from the EU, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors to vaccinate 20 percent of people in poor countries by the end of 2021 to account for possible price hikes, supply delays, and rising investment risk.

In the absence of an unlikely windfall from the Americans and Chinese, COVAX could issue up to $1.5 billion in so-called "vaccine bonds" if donors agree to cover the default risk, though that still won't cover the funding gap. With even rich countries scraping the budget barrel, most are prioritizing spending on domestic stimulus programs to stave off pandemic-fueled recessions.

But developed countries have sound economic reasons to invest in vaccines for the developing world. According to a recent study by Eurasia Group, equitable global access to vaccines could yield up to $466 billion in economic benefits in the next five years for ten major economies, including the US. That's almost one hundred times what COVAX needs to do its job, not to mention that the world won't go back to normal until all countries have defeated the coronavirus.

Bottom line: Six months after its launch, COVAX remains the best hope for low-income nations to gain access to COVID-19 vaccines. Yet, its limitations have also exposed how vaccine competition has exacerbated inequality among countries. Either way, the success or failure of this experiment in global cooperation will be a major factor in determining when the world has recovered from this historic public health, social, political, and economic shock.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

After Biden's first visit, do his European allies feel that America is back?

I think they do. Wasn't particularly surprising, we've heard that message before. But now it was, sort of more concrete issues. I'm not certain there was, sort of major, major, major progress. But there was the beginning of a dialogue on trade and technology issues with Europe, clearly on security issues with NATO, and quite a number of other issues with G7, and general satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting with Putin. So, altogether good.

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Listen: Former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder weighs in on US President Joe Biden's first trip abroad, which included a very important first stop at the G7 summit in the United Kingdom, and the way forward for the US and its closest friends. Did he convince allies that "America is back" and ready to resume its leadership role in global affairs? And if so, does it even matter if Americans still need to be convinced that US engagement in the world is vital? Daalder speaks with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent policy developments:

With the Supreme Court's recent decision, is the Affordable Care Act here to stay?

Yes, this was the Court's third ruling on the Affordable Care Act upholding its constitutionality. This challenge was brought by Republican attorneys general who argued that the repeal of the individual mandate tax undermined the court's previous justification for allowing the law to stand. They were unsuccessful, yet again. And the political salience of the Affordable Care Act has really diminished in the last several years, with Republicans moving on to fight other issues and the Court signaling very strongly they don't want to get involved in overturning this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act will be here at least until Congress wants to legislate on it again.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.

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