BILLIONS of dollars remaining in the COVAX initiative, aimed at delivering Covid-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest nations, may be redirected to prepare for future pandemics or to support vaccine manufacturing in Africa, according to the scheme’s partners.
Documents seen by Reuters and sources close to the initiative reveal that COVAX, led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), has $2.6bn in funds as the emergency phase of the pandemic nears its end.
While the initiative is scheduled to conclude at the end of this year, discussions are underway among the partners and original donors to determine the best utilisation of the remaining funds, a substantial amount in the global health landscape.
Out of the total, about $600 million was allocated as a contingency fund in case of a resurgence of the pandemic. The remaining $2bn has been returned to COVAX after vaccine manufacturers agreed to refund deals made during the peak of the crisis.
Marie-Ange Saraka-Yao, Gavi’s head of resource mobilisation, stressed the importance of not letting the funds go unused, saying, ‘This money was designed as an instrument of contingency, so we could respond to the twists and turns of the pandemic.’
Proposed plans include allocating around $700 million for ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programmes supported by Gavi in 2024 and 2025, with Gavi’s board set to discuss this option. Another portion of the funds will be reserved for booster shots in the coming years.
While the donors and the WHO have not commented on the matter, Saraka-Yao confirmed that during a March meeting, donors, including countries like the United States and Germany, as well as philanthropic organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, were asked if they wanted the remaining funds back, and none expressed such intention.
One potential avenue is to invest in broader pandemic preparedness initiatives, according to Gavi. Additionally, there is growing support for using some of the funds to strengthen vaccine manufacturing in Africa. Saraka-Yao highlighted a proposed financial support system to assist new manufacturers in competitively bringing products to market, particularly for diseases such as cholera or yellow fever that disproportionately affect Africa, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
In a separate announcement, Gavi stated that its incoming chief executive, Muhammad Ali Pate, would no longer be assuming the position as he returns to Nigeria. In the interim, David Marlow, the chief operating officer, will serve as interim chief executive after Seth Berkley steps down in August.