With rich countries paying more for Covid-19 vaccines, supply for Latin America is falling short, WHO says

People queuing for the Covid-19 vaccine in San Marcos, Nicaragua, on Sept 19, 2021.
People queuing for the Covid-19 vaccine in San Marcos, Nicaragua, on Sept 19, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The United Nations-backed Covid-19 vaccine programme will fail to meet its target for delivering doses to Latin America and the Caribbean this year, in part because wealthy countries that pay more for the shots are buying up most of the supply, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said Wednesday (Oct 6).

The global Covax programme, the primary source of Covid-19 vaccines for most of the world, aimed to provide enough doses this year for Latin American and Caribbean countries to inoculate 20 per cent of their people.

But most countries have only received around 30 per cent of the supply they contracted through Covax, said Dr Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organisation (Paho), a division of WHO.

"Producers are not prioritising delivery to the Covax mechanism," Dr Barbosa said at a news conference. "They continue to prioritise the bilateral agreements they have because in these bilateral agreements, the vaccines are more expensive."

Wealthy countries have raced far ahead of the rest of the world in vaccination rates and continue to buy doses as demand for booster shots rises.

WHO said last week that only nine of Africa's 54 countries had met the goal of vaccinating 10 per cent of their people by the end of September.

India's prohibition on exporting vaccines has contributed to delays in delivering shots to other parts of the world.

India, the world's largest drug producer, imposed the ban in May as it fell behind on domestic vaccination, but it said recently that with production expanding and its own inoculation programme gaining speed, it would lift the embargo this month.

Covax is focusing on delivery of vaccines to countries that have vaccinated less than 10 per cent of their population. In the Americas, that includes Jamaica, Nicaragua and Haiti.

With the Covax programme faltering, Paho has struck separate deals to buy millions of vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm and Sinovac, as well as AstraZeneca. But those agreements still fall far short of meeting the need.

Around 37 per cent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean has been fully vaccinated, but access in the region has been very uneven; Cuba, Chile and Uruguay are among the most highly vaccinated countries in the world.

"We continue to urge countries with surplus doses to share these with countries in our region, where they can have lifesaving impact," said Dr Carissa Etienne, director of Paho.