By Emma Farge
GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of UNICEF on Monday asked G7 countries to donate supplies for the COVAX vaccine sharing scheme as an emergency measure to address a serious deficiency caused by the interruption of Indian vaccine exports.
India has restricted exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine by its Serum Institute, which had been promised to COVAX, to be used by the country while fighting a second massive wave of infections.
The UN agency, UNICEF, responsible for supplying vaccines against coronavirus through COVAX, estimates the supply deficit at 140 million doses by the end of May and around 190 million by the end of June.
“Sharing the excess doses immediately available is a minimal, essential and emergency palliative measure, and is needed now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, adding that this can help prevent vulnerable countries from becoming the next global hotspot.
As G7 leaders prepared to meet in Britain next month, the head of the World Health Organization last week denounced the “moral catastrophe” of vaccine inequity, urging rich countries to donate doses instead of use them for children less vulnerable to serious illnesses.
Citing new research by the analytics and scientific information firm Airfinity, Fore from UNICEF said the G7 countries could donate about 153 million doses if they shared only 20% of their available supply in June, July and August.
This could be done while still fulfilling commitments to vaccinate its own populations, she said, without providing further details.
COVAX, jointly administered by WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance, relies heavily on the AstraZeneca injection, which is responsible for most of the vaccines intended for early launch, as it aims to provide 2 billion doses this year.
UNICEF said other manufacturing limitations outside India have also reduced the supply of doses of COVAX, but these delays should be resolved by the end of June.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by David Goodman)