The World Health Organization (WHO) and makers of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine announced Friday that they are ready to provide up to 40 million initial doses to poorer countries through the COVAX facility.
"The urgent and equitable rollout of vaccines is not just a moral imperative, it's also a health security, strategic and economic imperative," Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said at a news webinar in Geneva. "This agreement with Pfizer will help to enable COVAX to save lives, stabilize health systems and drive the global economic recovery."
Tedros said the COVAX vaccine access scheme signed an agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech for up to 40 million doses after concerns that poorer nations are being left behind to fight the deadly pandemic.
The announcement came one day after the US announced it was recommitting to the WHO after former President Donald Trump said it was leaving the UN global health agency.
The US' leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also said the US would sign up for COVAX.
"The commitment of the United States to join COVAX together with this new agreement with Pfizer-BionTech means that we're closer to fulfilling the promise of COVAX," said Tedros.
Additionally, COVAX announced that, pending WHO emergency use listings, nearly 150 million doses of the UK-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate are anticipated to be available in the first quarter of 2021, via existing agreements with the Serum Institute of India (SII) and AstraZeneca.
"This is not just significant for COVAX; it is a major step forward for equitable access to vaccines and an essential part of the global effort to beat this pandemic," said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, which leads COVAX's procurement and delivery.
"We will only be safe anywhere if we are safe everywhere," said Berkley.
COVAX has agreements in place to access just more than 2 billion doses of several promising vaccine candidates.
On Monday, Tedros told the WHO's executive committee that while 39 million doses have been administered in 49 higher-income countries, only 25 doses were given to one of the lowest-income countries.
"I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries," he said.