COVAX has distributed more than 100 million COVID-19 vaccines amid the pandemic. Photo by Luong Thai Linh/EPA-EFE
July 13 (UPI) -- COVAX, the World Health Organization-led initiative to provide equitable worldwide access to vaccines, said it has signed agreements with Chinese pharmaceutical companies for up to more than 500 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccines.
Gavi, the public-private entity co-leading the vaccine effort with the WHO, announced the deal with Sinopharm and Sinovac in a statement Monday, saying the agreements will immediately rush 110 million doses to COVAX Facility participants.
Dr. Seth Berkley, the chief executive at Gavi, said he welcomes the deal as it ensures that COVAX has options amid supply delays.
"Thanks to this deal, and because these vaccines have already received WHO Emergency Use Listing, we can move to start supplying doses to countries immediately," he said.
Under the agreements, Gavi committed to buying a total of 170 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, of which 60 million doses will be made available between now and October.
With Sinovac, Gavi committed to buying up to 380 million doses, with the first 50 million to be made available by September.
Weidong Yin, chairman, president and chief executive of Sinovac, said his company has delivered more than 1 billion vaccine doses worldwide as of June.
"We appreciate the efforts from international organizations, including WHO and COVAX partners, to accelerate the efforts of disease prevention," he said in a statement.
Gavi said the deals come at a time when the highly contagious Delta variant "is posing a rising risk to health systems."
The COVAX Facility is one pillar of the WHO's ACT Accelerator that aims to ramp up development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.
Since it was announced, the WHO has been asking countries to join while admonishing so-called vaccine nationalism, where wealthy governments rush to inoculate their entire populations at the expense of people in poorer nations.
The facility, with 135 participating countries, said it has shipped only 106 million vaccines so far.
According to Oxford University's Our World In Data project, more than 3.44 billion doses have been administered worldwide but only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. In comparison, more than 65% of the populations of Canada, Britain and Israel have received at least one shot.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief of WHO, told reporters Monday that the Delta variant present in more than 104 countries was depleting resources and exhausting frontline workers in poor nations while those with high levels of vaccine coverage are also seeing it spread quickly.
"The global gap in vaccine supply is hugely uneven and inequitable," he said. "Some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable."
"I ask you," he said, "who would put firefighters on the frontline without protection?"
Tedros said tens of millions of vaccine dose donations are starting to come through but more is needed.
"Thousands of people are still dying every day and that deserves urgent action," he said.