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Rome Reports

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The challenge of distributing COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need

In his Urbi et Orbi Easter blessing, Pope Francis repeated his Christmas message to governments around the world. 

I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries.

The international community faces many obstacles in achieving this goal. Among them is getting developed nations to give vaccines to countries that cannot afford them.

The World Health Organization and humanitarian groups have responded to this challenge by creating COVAX: a program designed to vaccinate healthcare workers and high-risk individuals in both developed and developing nations.

The aim of COVAX is to distribute 2 billion doses to developing nations in 2021. So far they have only delivered 36 million.

WHO Director-General
“There is still a serious challenge on vaccine equity and availability. Last week, I made an urgent request to countries, with doses of vaccines that have WHO Emergency Use Listing, to share 10 million doses immediately with COVAX. FLASH I also requested manufacturers to help ensure that the countries that step up can rapidly donate those doses. This challenge has been heard but we’re yet to receive commitments for these doses.”

COVAX distributed its first vaccines on Feb. 25, when it delivered 600,000 doses to Ghana. 

The United Kingdom and the United States had begun their vaccination drives more than two months earlier in December.

The other challenge to what the Pope is calling the “internationalization of vaccines” is the internal distribution within poor countries. 

One instance of this problem is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which received a shipment of vaccines on March 3. One month later, they haven’t been touched.

A lack of medical personnel and crumbling infrastructure have prevented their distribution.

WHO Director-General
“I know this is a challenging time for many countries as cases and hospitalizations are spiking. But conversely, it’s when cases are spiking that it’s the most important time to share vaccines equitably and protect health workers and at-risk communities.”

The Covid-19 crisis affects everyone. Either it is resolved everywhere or it is resolved nowhere. 

It’s an enormous challenge, as well as an opportunity to improve the healthcare systems and infrastructure of developing nations around the world. 

Javier Romero