Geneva, Switzerland: 

Amid possible need for variant-specific vaccines, changes to vaccination policies, country preference for some products over others, the programmatic complexity of managing multiple products, and the need for better intelligence on country-level planning and execution, COVAX on Thursday set a target to achieve 70 per cent COVID-19 immunization coverage by mid-2022.

The Independent Allocation of Vaccines Group (IAVG) of COVAX has issued a set of recommendations to make the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines more equitable and more effective, read the statement of IAVG.

The group was established a year ago, to validate and assess vaccine allocations recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi’s Joint Allocation Taskforce (JAT) of COVAX. Since then, much has changed.

COVAX was envisioned to be the world’s primary distributor of COVID-19 vaccines, with IAVG serving as an independent referee for needs-based allocations.

But rich nations largely sidestepped COVAX, hoarding doses for their own populations and cutting deals directly with low- and middle-income countries. This has made subsequent allocation decisions even more challenging.

Moreover, IAVG is concerned that the primary priority use of available vaccines is not consistent with the goals outlined in the Strategy to Achieve Global COVID-19 Vaccination by Mid-2022 in October 2021.

The group also noted that it has validated the allocation of only 730 million of the estimated 8 billion doses of vaccine that have been administered globally, which is less than 10 per cent.

The IAVG is therefore calling for the achievement of 70 per cent coverage with COVID-19 vaccines in all countries as a global imperative.

As the overall vaccine supply to COVAX is anticipated to continue to grow substantially next year, COVAX will have a greater opportunity to contribute to achieving this goal, read the statement.

Manufacturers, vaccine-producing and high-coverage countries must prioritize vaccine equity and transparency, including the sharing of information about manufacturing capacity and supply schedules with COVAX, as well as vaccine access plans.

All countries to work with COVAX with considerable urgency to optimize the strategic use of the growing vaccine supply.

This means that high-coverage countries will need to establish complementary, “dual-track” approaches that consider both domestic and international goals, read the statement.

It also stressed on greater attention to who is being immunized and equity as the overarching principle, and priority in all countries to ensure that the primary series is offered first and foremost to all adults and adolescents, in the step-wise manner recommended by the WHO, as these populations still require primary immunization.

However, as more is known about the required vaccination response in the face of Omicron, the need for booster doses and need to immunize children, the COVAX vaccine allocation decisions must consider these recommendations, added the statement.

The rapid emergence of the Omicron variant is a stark reminder of the ongoing threat posed by the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and reinforces the critical need to achieve high levels of immunization coverage in all countries, including in highly vulnerable populations, in a timely manner.

Given the global health and epidemiologic consequences of failing to immunize vulnerable populations, including those in humanitarian settings, the IAVG recommends that COVAX continue to work with all manufacturers and countries to immediately increase the availability and uptake of vaccines in these populations.

All countries to have a steady, predictable supply of COVID-19 vaccines, which meet the unique needs of each country. Attention must be paid to addressing prohibitive absorptive challenges in countries that request support. This may include support for vaccine storage, distribution, administration and/or record-keeping, which may in part be due to competing health and immunization crises, said the statement.

IAVG also called for close collaboration between all COVAX partners, donors, and participants.

In order to increase demand for COVID-19 vaccines, ongoing, concerted global, national and local leadership is required to address vaccine misinformation, the statement added.

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