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COVAX expands with World Bank backing

The World Bank approved US$2 billion in financing for COVID-19 vaccines in 17 developing countries as part of a two-year US$12 billion package.

A photo illustration of medicinal syringes used to administer drugs, vaccines and blood transfusions
A photo illustration of medicinal syringes used to administer drugs, vaccines and blood transfusions (AN/Jernej Furman)

WASHINGTON (AN) — The World Bank approved US$2 billion in financing for COVID-19 vaccines in 17 developing countries on Tuesday, part of a two-year US$12 billion package aimed at helping poorer nations strengthen their vaccination systems.

The funding will support COVID-19 vaccinations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cape Verde, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Tajikistan and Tunisia.

The bank expects to support 50 countries with US$4 billion financing for the vaccines by mid-year, it said in a statement.

“Access to vaccines is key to altering the course of the pandemic and helping countries move toward a resilient recovery,” World Bank President David Malpass said. “As the world attempts to carry out the largest vaccination effort in history, we have stressed the need for countries with excess vaccine supplies to release them as soon as possible."

The bank’s support can be used by countries to procure doses through the COVAX Facility’s multilateral efforts or other sources. The aim of COVAX is to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee all nations will have fair and equitable access.

The organizations that co-lead COVAX — Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI — have said their agreements with several drugmakers mean that all of COVAX’s 190 participating and eligible member nations will have access to doses that protect vulnerable groups this year.

The bank's financing is also being used to purchase medical supplies, personal protective equipment and vaccine cold-chains, and to train health workers, install data and information systems and launch campaigns to persuade people that getting vaccinated is safe and essential.

It also has approved nearly US$109 billion to help countries fight the pandemic and provided support for health emergency projects in more than 100 countries.

U.S. expected to add US$2 billion more

The International Finance Corporation, a private sector development arm of the World Bank, said it has invested US$4 billion in beefing up production and availability of personal protective equipment in developing countries and unlocking medical supply bottlenecks in emerging market.

But a survey of vaccine use among 140 developing countries found just 30% had plans for training health workers to provide the needed shots. And the survey by the bank and other international organizations found just 27% had a public relations strategy to counter vaccine hesitancy.

“To get a vaccine into someone’s arm, there is a whole system of interdependent actions that needs to function properly,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank's managing director of operations. “We are working together with the international community and partners to accelerate the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines are a key element in how we return to school, to work, and to growth.”

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged other nations to contribute US$2 billion more for COVAX during a one-day pledging conference co-hosted by the United States and Gavi. The conference raised US$400 million more for COVAX, which already has US$6.3 billion from governments and private donors.

The United States agreed to provide US$2 billion to COVAX in March. "And we'll contribute an additional $2 billion to this effort through 2022, because people everywhere should have access to rigorously tested, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccines," Blinken said, "and because we recognize that as long as COVID is spreading and replicating anywhere, it poses a threat to people everywhere.”

Earlier in the month, Blinken predicted the pandemic will not end in the United States until it ends worldwide.

"Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus, not while it’s still replicating around the world and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again," he told a press briefing. "And not if we want to fully reopen our economy or start traveling again."