The ‘next big question’ is how to distribute the coronavirus vaccines

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Bill Gates has expressed confidence that a coronavirus vaccine will be available by 2021. But he remains concerned that the doses will not be made available to low-income groups, especially in less developed countries. .On a conference call, Gates told reporters that the “next big question” his foundation is pondering is how to make and distribute the vaccines to those who need them most. “The rich countries must not win a bidding war,” he said. “Misallocation of the vaccine would result in dramatic additional deaths. ”

Rich countries including the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom have pre-ordered more than 2 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine, which could leave supplies limited in the coming year. But international efforts are underway to ensure that the poorest countries still have access to the vaccine, led by groups such as the World Health Organization.

Without the vaccine, the coronavirus could do more to hurt the prospects of vulnerable populations. A new report, titled “The Goalkeepers Report,” released Monday by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explores how the world has already regressed because of Covid-19, with global poverty rising in many countries.

The report cites modeling from Northeastern University that predicts that twice as many people could die from Covid-19 if richer countries store the first 2 billion doses of vaccine rather than distribute them fairly. The report also found that the pandemic was disproportionately impacting women, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as people living in extreme poverty.

“The pandemic, in almost all of its dimensions, has worsened inequalities. The poorest countries suffer much more than the richest countries because of a lack of fiscal resources to continue, ”Gates told reporters on Friday, before the report was released. He added that many workers in developing countries cannot easily work from home and are generally paid less.

At the end of August, more than 170 countries expressed interest in joining the Covid-19 Global Vaccine Access Mechanism, or COVAX, which aims to work with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries with ‘access equitable to safe and effective vaccines ”and protect the most vulnerable. populations, such as the elderly and health workers. Its goal is to deliver 2 billion doses of the approved Covid-19 vaccine by the end of 2021 by increasing manufacturing and purchasing supply.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a founding partner and donor of the Gavi Global Vaccine Alliance, which leads the COVAX initiative alongside WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI.

However, the Trump administration said in early September that it would not be joining the effort. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down the nation’s absence in the initiative, saying “No nation has been more willing and so deeply committed to delivering vaccines to the world than the United States of America. America “.

Still, Gates, on the call, didn’t say rich countries like the United States shouldn’t set aside capacity and prioritize doses for their populations. “I don’t think it’s out of place,” he noted, adding that the United States has provided sufficient funds for vaccine development.

That said, the United States could still do more to ensure that vaccines are distributed more fairly and equitably. Dr Moncef Slaoui, who heads the Trump administration’s Operation War Speed ​​vaccination initiative, told NPR in an interview earlier this month that he “strongly” believes a vaccine will be available before it ends. of the year for people belonging to high-risk groups. Yet many officials, including White House coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci, have predicted that a Covid-19 vaccine will not be widely available to Americans for “several months” in 2021.

“The only thing the United States has yet to do, but hopefully it will, is allocate substantial resources for the purchase of vaccines and other drugs and diagnostics for the disease. pandemic, ”Gates said.

“If they coupled that with their R&D funding and would facilitate the manufacture of vaccines in a lot of factories, then you would have the full picture there,” Gates said. “So nobody is saying that… there shouldn’t be recognition of where the testing was done, where the R&D funding comes from. The way to solve this problem is to have this capacity as large as possible. “

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