The "terrible" surge of the coronavirus cases in India has severely impacted COVAX's vaccine supply in the second quarter of this year to the extent that there will be a shortfall of 190 million doses by the end of June, according to a joint statement by the WHO, UNICEF, GAVI and CEPI.
The joint statement was issued on Thursday by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) CEO Dr Richard Hatchett, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance CEO Dr Seth Berkley, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
"Countries that are advanced in their vaccination programmes are seeing cases of COVID-19 decline, hospitalisations decrease and early signs of some kind of normality resume. However, the global picture is far more concerning," the statement said.
Giving a call to action to equip COVAX to deliver 2 billion doses in 2021, the statement said, "we are seeing the traumatic effects of the terrible surge of COVID-19 in South Asia - a surge which has also severely impacted global vaccine supplies."
It added that COVAX has proven it works as the global mechanism for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, having delivered over 70 million doses to 126 countries and economies around the world since February - from remote islands to conflict settings - managing the largest and most complex rollout of vaccines in history. Over 35 countries received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses thanks to COVAX.
"However, the terrible surge of the virus in India has had a severe impact on COVAX''s supply in the second quarter of this year, to the point where, by the end of June we will face a shortfall of 190 million doses," the joint statement said.
It said even though COVAX will have larger volumes available later in the year through the deals it has already secured with several manufacturers, it warned that "if we do not address the current, urgent shortfall, the consequences could be catastrophic."
It said the pandemic has just taken a frightening new turn, as a deadly surge of cases rages across South Asia and other hotspots.
The global agencies called on nations to share doses "now", saying the United States and Europe have collectively pledged to share 180 million doses.
"But we still need more, we need them to go through COVAX, and we need them to start moving in early June. At least one billion doses could be shared by wealthy countries in 2021.
"COVAX''s need for doses is greatest right now. Countries with higher coverage rates, which are due to receive doses soon, should swap their places in supply queues with COVAX so that doses can be equitably distributed as quickly as possible," it said.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world''s largest vaccine manufacturer, is the key supplier of AstraZeneca doses to COVAX.
According to the agreement between GAVI and SII, which included funding to support an increase in manufacturing capacity, SII is contracted to provide COVAX with the SII-licensed and manufactured AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine (known as Covishield) to 64 lower-income economies participating in the Gavi COVAX AMC (including India), alongside its commitments to the Government of India.
However, supply of vaccines from SII to COVAX has been impacted as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravages India.
Last week, Ghebreyesus had said that once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, "we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to COVAX."
UNICEF had also noted with concern that the devastating surge in coronavirus cases in India has impacted vaccine supplies to the COVAX facility.
"Among the global consequences of the situation in India, a global hub for vaccine production, is a severe reduction in vaccines available to COVAX. Soaring domestic demand has meant that 140 million doses intended for distribution to low-and-middle-income countries through the end of May cannot be accessed by COVAX. Another 50 million doses are likely to be missed in June," Fore had said in a statement last week.
A note to editors in the UNICEF statement had said that "shortfall numbers are based on delays related to shipments from the Serum Institute of India (SII) only." Other delays related to the original COVAX delivery schedule are expected to be made up by the end of June. "There is currently no timetable to resolve SII-related delays", the note said.
The COVAX facility is slated to deliver its 65 millionth dose in the coming days when it should have been at least its 170 millionth.
COVAX is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, speaking at a virtual event by the Ikea Foundation, Purpose and the UN, expressed concern that the "recent surges in South Asia and elsewhere show that COVID-19 is still very much with us.
"More than 80,000 people died in the past week alone. We are in a war against this virus. To achieve victory, we need to put our economies and societies on a war footing. We need a true global vaccination plan," he said.
He encouraged all companies, particularly those with global representation, to look beyond headquarters and focus on the most vulnerable countries and communities, from South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker, more than 168,769,000 confirmed cases have been reported from across the world while the deadly disease has claimed the lives of over 3,507,000 people.