Covid-19 will not truly end until everyone has access to vaccines, including people in the poorest countries. Worldwide vaccination offers the best hope for stopping the pandemic, saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
I continue to urge countries with sufficient vaccine supplies to swiftly release their additional doses to developing countries that have delivery programmes in place.
Some countries have gone well beyond vaccinating their most at-risk citizens. But many others have yet to receive any doses and many of the poorest countries will require several months to immunise a large share of the most at-risk groups.
Using limited vaccine supplies in a handful of countries while low- and middle-income economies wait indefinitely does not make sense for anyone.
More lives will be lost, global economic growth will be more unequal and even countries with high vaccination rates will be more at risk from novel coronavirus variants than they would be if developing countries had greater access to vaccines.
The longer it takes to achieve broad vaccination of the vulnerable, the higher the risk of extreme poverty.
Conducting a large-scale vaccination campaign is a major undertaking, but the logistics are more challenging for countries with limited resources and fragile health systems.
A successful global vaccination effort must stand on three pillars.
First, countries with an adequate vaccine supply should immediately release doses to the vulnerable worldwide.
This may mean exercising options and guiding vaccines to other countries or making clear to manufacturers that they can quickly send supplies without exposing themselves to legal risk. Or it could involve actually fulfilling funding commitments to the Covax facility set up to allocate doses equitably to poorer countries.
The World Bank board already has approved financing available in 22 developing countries, with several dozen more expected by mid-year under the fast-track process used for emergency Covid-19 assistance in 2020.
This $12 billion can facilitate rapid vaccine deployment through national health systems and pay for vaccine purchases and shipments if needed.
Standardised, transparent contracts that arrange for fair and equitable distribution are crucial. If vaccine supplies pass through Covax, the World Bank financing can help with distribution and to purchase additional supplies to vaccinate more people.
Second, we need greater transparency regarding contracts between governments, pharmaceutical companies and organisations involved in vaccine production and delivery so that financing can be directed effectively and countries can plan for receipt and deployment. This is also critical to enable the private-sector investments that will be needed to expand supply.
This week, the World Bank launches a comprehensive online portal that provides easy access to information about our projects, including individual country-financing operations.
The portal will also incorporate lessons from vaccine-readiness assessments we helped undertake with over 140 countries over the last half-year, working closely with the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), the Global Fund, the World Health Organisation and Unicef.
Thus, the online portal is also an invitation to vaccine manufacturers, purchasers, and intermediaries to follow suit, and another plea to those controlling the supply of approved vaccines to release them to safe, well-funded deployment programmes.
The third pillar is increased vaccine production. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group’s private-sector arm, has invested over $800 million in health care, including in vaccine manufacturers. It currently has $1.2 billion in the pipeline through the Global Health Platform, a $4 billion financing mechanism created to help meet the immediate need for vaccines and other health services.
The IFC is engaging governments and companies on early-stage development of commercially viable pharmaceutical manufacturing projects for Covid-19 vaccines.
The pandemic has overwhelmed health systems worldwide, even in the most developed countries. We must now strengthen them, not just to cope with the vaccination effort, but also to prevent and treat Covid-19 and ensure the full range of essential health services.
The global Covid-19 vaccination campaign will be the largest in history.
Our goal must be to carry it out as quickly, broadly, and safely as possible; learn from what worked and didn’t; and boost preparedness and resilience for future crises.