Vaccinate the world against COVID? Why the ambitious multi-billion dollar plan to protect the world’s poor failed

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Credit: Mamyrael/AFP/Getty Images
Credit: Mamyrael/AFP/Getty Images

The Covax program, conceived in early 2020 as a kind of Operation Warp Speed for the globe, was supposed to be a model for how to vaccinate humanity, starting with those who needed it the most. The plan was scheduled to have the developing world’s entire healthcare workforce immunized by now.

Instead, the idealistic undertaking to inoculate nearly a billion people collided with reality, foiled by a basic instinct for nations to put their own populations first, and a shortage of manufacturing capacity around the world.

[Epidemiologist Dr. Seth] Berkley and a small crew of global health experts spent months trying to recruit much of the world into buying their vaccines from one common pool, rich and poor countries alike. While they were hammering out the details and raising money, nations that could afford it rushed to secure their own shots first.

“I do understand the political reality,” Dr. Berkley said. “People eventually just gave us money and said, good luck competing against us.”

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The Serum Institute, [the India-based vaccine supplier for Covax,] declined to comment. It has said it expects to restart sending doses to Covax by the end of the year. 

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