In late June alone, the initiative known as Covax sent some 530,000 doses to Britain more than double the amount sent that month to the entire continent of Africa.
Under Covax, countries were supposed to give money so vaccines could be set aside, both as donations to poor countries and as an insurance policy for richer ones to buy doses if theirs fell through. Some rich countries, including those in the EU, calculated that they had more than enough doses available through bilateral deals and ceded their allocated Cova doses to poorer countries.
But others, including Britain, tapped into the meagre supply of Covax doses themselves, despite being among the countries that had reserved most of the world’s available vaccines. In the meantime, billions of people in poor countries have yet to receive a single dose.
The result is that poorer countries have landed in exactly the predicament Covax was supposed to avoid: dependent on the whims and politics of rich countries for donations, just as they have been so often in the past. And in many cases, rich countries don’t want to donate in significant amounts before they finish vaccinating all their citizens who could possibly want a dose, a process that is still playing out.
“If we had tried to withhold vaccines from parts of the world, could we have made it any worse than it is today?” asked Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor at the World Health Organization, during a public session on vaccine equity.
“The government is a strong champion of Covax,” the UK said, describing the initiative as a mechanism for all countries to obtain vaccines, not just those in need of donations. It declined to explain why it chose to receive those doses despite private deals that have reserved eight injections for every UK resident.