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4 March, 2021 - 20:11 By Tony Quested

Poorer nations welcome AstraZeneca COVID vaccine as EU kicks in

The first of many millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine have begun arriving in low and middle-income countries across the world through the multilateral COVAX initiative, the first steps in fulfilling the Cambridge UK company’s efforts to provide broad and equitable access to the vaccine.

First COVAX shipments were dispatched late last week to Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire and more are due to begin arriving this week in countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Mongolia and Moldova. This supply represents the first COVID-19 vaccine for many of these countries.

Further shipments will arrive in the coming weeks with the aim of supplying a total of 142 countries with hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine in the coming months. 

The majority of these doses, manufactured by AstraZeneca and its licence partner Serum Institute of India, will go to low and middle-income countries.

The expansive strategy is in stark contrast to the situation closer to home where Italy has blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia in an escalation of a row over alleged breach of contract.

National media have extensively reported that the Italian government ordered that the doses remain in the bloc with the backing of the European Commission. It is the first such intervention under the EU’s controversial export authorisation scheme, introduced after the Union alleged AstraZeneca had reneged on contractual obligations concerning vaccine supply to Europe – claims the Cambridge business have disputed in the strongest possible terms.

AstraZeneca has played the EU dispute low key and senior executives have preferred to focus on the more altruistic elements of its global rollout strategy.

CEO Pascal Soriot said: “These first steps towards fulfilling our broad, equitable and no-profit emergency response to the pandemic mean millions of people, irrespective of their country’s income level, will soon be protected against this deadly virus. 

“This is a moment of great pride for us at AstraZeneca and I am extremely grateful to our partners including Gavi, CEPI and Oxford University for their hard work and dedication in order to make this humanitarian ideal a reality for many millions of people around the world.”

Vaccine shipments have been allocated according to the COVAX Allocation Framework which determines volume per participating country based on a number of factors, including country readiness, national regulatory authorisations and national vaccination plans in place. 

The supply through COVAX follows the recent Emergency Use Listing by the World Health Organization (WHO) for active immunisation in individuals aged 18 and older, which provides a vital and accelerated pathway to enable supply.

AstraZeneca was the first global pharmaceutical company to join COVAX – in June 2020 – in line with the company’s shared commitment to global, equitable access to vaccines.

The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2-8 degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings.

COVAX is a global mechanism co-founded by CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance working with WHO, UNICEF, civil society organisations and industry groups to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 tools across the world for all participating countries, regardless of income level.

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