International Collaboration to Ensure Equitable Access to Vaccines for COVID-19: The ACT-Accelerator and the COVAX Facility

Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • Equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine in all countries remains a key policy objective, but experience of previous pandemics suggests access will be limited in developing countries, despite the rapid development of three successful vaccine candidates.
  • The COVAX Facility seeks to address this important issue, but the prevalence of vaccine nationalism threatens to limit the ability of the facility to meet both its funding targets and its ambitious goals for vaccine procurement.
  • A failure to adequately address the underlying lack of infrastructure in developing countries threatens to further limit the success of the COVAX Facility.

Context: Significant effort has been directed toward developing a COVID-19 vaccine, which is viewed as the route out of the pandemic. Much of this effort has coalesced around COVAX, the multilateral initiative aimed at accelerating the development of COVID-19 vaccines, and ensuring they are equitably available in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This paper represents the first significant analysis of COVAX, and the extent to which it can be said to have successfully met these aims.

Methods: This paper draws on the publicly available policy documents made available by the COVAX initiatives, as well as position papers and public statements from governments around the world with respect to COVID-19 vaccines and equitable access. We analyze the academic literature regarding access to vaccines during the H1N1 pandemic. Finally, we consider the WHO Global Allocation System, and its principles, which are intended to guide COVAX vaccine deployment.

Findings: We argue that the funding mechanism deployed by the COVAX Pillar appears to be effective at fostering at-risk investments in research and development and the production of doses in advance of confirmation of clinical efficacy, but caution that this represents a win-win situation for vaccine manufacturers, providing them with opportunity to benefit regardless of whether their vaccine candidate ever goes on to gain regulatory approval. We also argue that the success of the COVAX Facility with respect to equitable access to vaccine is likely to be limited, primarily as a result of the prevalence of vaccine nationalism, whereby countries adopt policies which heavily prioritize their own public health needs at the expense of others.

Conclusions: Current efforts through COVAX have greatly accelerated the development of vaccines against COVID-19, but these benefits are unlikely to flow to LMICs, largely due to the threat of vaccine nationalism.

Open Access

Eccleston-Turner M, Upton H. International Collaboration to Ensure Equitable Access to Vaccines for COVID-19: The ACT-Accelerator and the COVAX Facility. Milbank Q. 2021;99(2):426-449.