Despite late-year push, Covax falls 1 billion vaccines short of 2021 goal

Covax, an initiative to distribute vaccines equally across the globe, shipped out a record 309 million doses in December but still ended the year far short of its goal for the year.

According to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which co-directs Covax, the vaccine-sharing program shipped out a little more than 900 million doses to 144 countries in 2021, which is far short of the 2 billion-dose goal it had set for itself. Still, December was the initiative's best month yet, with vaccines distributed above the 155 million mark for the first time, Covax's tracker shows.

Some of the problems that had initially troubled Covax are starting to get fixed, including increased supply and better notice of when vaccines would be available from donors, Covax officials told The Washington Post.

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During a Dec. 22 media conference, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed optimism about Covax heading into 2022.

"Our projections show that supply should be sufficient to vaccinate the entire global adult population, and to give boosters to high-risk populations, by the first quarter of 2022," he said.

Covax, which formed in April, is directed by the WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in addition to Gavi.

Roughly 67 percent of the population in high-income countries, including the U.S. and European nations such as the United Kingdom and Germany, is vaccinated, according to a dashboard for the United Nations and WHO. In contrast, lower-income nations, including several African countries, have reported roughly 10 percent vaccination coverage.

On New Year's Eve, Tedros accused nations of "vaccine hoarding" but expressed hope that the pandemic could end in 2022 if the world ends vaccine inequity.

"The longer inequity continues, the higher the risks of the virus evolving in ways we can't prevent or predict," he said. "If we end inequity, we end the pandemic. In turn, we save lives, we relieve the burden on health systems and give respite to the legions of health workers who have toiled tirelessly and sacrificed so much for two years."

Tedros said omicron, the highly transmissible coronavirus variant that was first identified in South Africa in November, emerged because of vaccine inequity.