Officials to explore COVID vaccine supply gaps, boosting production

Though deliveries of COVAX vaccine started at a brisk pace this week, with developed countries ramping up their programs, the demand far exceeds the supply, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

At a briefing today, WHO officials said they and their partners will hold a global summit on Mar 8 and 9 to look at gaps in the supply chain and examine ways to boost production. Also, officials raised concerns about a COVID-19 surge in Brazil, where the P1 variant is dominant.

Multiple strategies to boost supply

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO’s director-general, said COVAX, the program for equitably distributing COVID-19 vaccine supplies, has now delivered more than 20 million doses to 20 countries, and in the next week, it will deliver 14.4 million more to 31 additional countries.

Though progress is encouraging, the first round of allocations is only enough for countries to vaccinate 2% to 3% of their populations, a stark contrast from other countries that are making more rapid progress with an eye toward vaccinating their entire populations within the next few months.

The main priority of COVAX is to help all countries to end the pandemic, Tedros said. “This means urgent action to ramp up production.”

Tedros said there are several barriers to boosting the speed and volume of production, ranging from export bans to shortages of raw materials, including glass, plastic, and stoppers. He added that the WHO is working on four approaches, which include connecting vaccine producers with companies that have extra capacity for the fill-and-finish step, such as the deal announced this week between Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

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