Helping low-income countries to secure vaccine doses

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Norway has decided to transfer more of its options for vaccine doses to the Covax global vaccine initiative. ‘Norway is being supplied with vaccines under its agreement with the EU and has decided that these options are not relevant for use on the Norwegian market. Our contribution to Covax will help to ensure that more health workers and people in risk groups in low-income countries can receive Covid-19 vaccines,’ said Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein.

Options for vaccine doses manufactured by Novavax and Janssen will now be transferred to Covax AMC (Covid-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment). The Novavax vaccine has been developed in collaboration with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Janssen is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. Both of these vaccines can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures. Novavax has not been approved by the European Commission and cannot be used in Norway until it has received approval, while Johnson & Johnson has temporarily halted distribution of its vaccine to the EU.

Both the Novavax and Janssen vaccines are included in the EU’s portfolio of Covid-19 vaccine candidates. Norway has taken the decision not to negotiate separate agreements for the same vaccines, one through Covax and the other through the EU cooperation, and we have therefore chosen to waive the option to acquire these vaccine doses for use in Norway.

‘These vaccines will be easier to transport, store and distribute in medium- and low-income countries, where infrastructure is less reliable. We are now in a phase where many Western countries are making rapid progress in vaccinating their own populations, while low-income countries are only just getting started. It is a matter of urgency to ensure a more equitable rollout of vaccines, and the transfer of options to Covax AMC can help to achieve this,’ said Mr Ulstein.

The Covax Facility has already distributed 38 million vaccine doses to a total of 107 countries. The first priority is to vaccinate health workers and people in risk groups in medium- and low-income countries. It is up to the national authorities in recipient countries to decide how the vaccines are to be used.

‘Health workers are particularly exposed to infection, which has implications not only for the treatment of Covid-19 patients, but also for the care of young children who are undernourished or women in childbirth. It is vital to ensure that conditions for health workers in hospitals are safe. Covax is now sending vaccines to poor countries that do not have the means or the capacity to compete in the vaccine market,’ said Mr Ulstein.

In November 2020, Norway transferred options for 677 000 vaccine doses manufactured by AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech to Covax. Norway’s contribution was financed under the development aid budget, with the aim of ensuring that the poorest countries have access to vaccines. It is still unclear how many vaccine doses the Novavax and Jansen options will provide.

Covax AMC plans to deliver at least 1.3 billion vaccine doses to 92 medium- and low-income countries by the end of 2021. In total, Norway is contributing NOK 1.3 billion to Covax, which is expected to provide more than 25 million vaccine doses. Norway was one of the first countries to contribute to Covax AMC.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic is a global problem, and it requires a global solution. The emergence of new variants of the virus shows why it is so critical to ensure early and equitable access to vaccines for people in low-income countries. Right now, the world does not have enough vaccines, and we are seeing a perilously uneven distribution of the vaccines that are available. It is in our own interest to ensure that vaccines are distributed to everyone. National health security is inextricably linked to global health security,’ said Mr Ulstein.