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.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

More Show less

Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

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.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

More Show less

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

More Show less

In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal