Norway last year secured the option to purchase a large number of Covid-19 vaccine doses through the Vaccines Global Access (Covax).
Led by organisations including UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Covax aims to offer equal access to vaccines for all countries. The scheme is primarily funded by wealthy Western countries, with the EU having pledged €500 million as of November 2020.
Norway paid 61 million kroner into to Covax last year, according to news wire NTB. That gave the country the option of receiving 1.9 million vaccine doses through the scheme, but the government chose to transfer the opportunity to order the doses to poorer countries, according to the report.
Though media Development Today has reported that the doses were “intended for domestic use in Norway”, minister for foreign development Dag Inge Ulstein told news agency NTB that the money paid to Covax came out of the budget for assisting development and that it was not correct to say that Norway has donated vaccines intended for the Norwegian public.
“In theory there may be a possibility that Norway could have demanded these vaccines for its own use, instead of the original intention which was to provide vulnerable health workers (with vaccines) in poor countries,” Ulstein said to NTB.
As such, Gavi informed Norway in February that 677,000 doses have been transferred under the scheme in accordance with a government decision taken in November last year.
It is expected that Norway will relinquish the option for the remaining 1.2 million doses, but this has not yet been formally decided, NTB writes.
Norway’s global health ambassador, John Arne Røttingen told NTB that the investment in Covax was made as an insurance policy in case the country was unable to secure enough vaccines through the EU.
When the Gavi contacted the Norwegian government in November 2020 with the option to purchase the first set of doses Norwegian health authorities were then confident they would secure enough doses from the EU.
“We as a country said no and transferred these options to the poorest countries,” said Røttingen.
Norway’s vaccine agreement with the EU does not preclude it from receiving vaccines through Covax, he also noted.
Ulstein pointed out that Norway’s participation in the EU’s vaccine procurement scheme actually means that EU member states are giving up part of their own shares in the vaccines purchased by the EU to allow Norway to receive doses.
“As such, we can’t simultaneously take vaccines intended for the poorest countries in the world,” he said according to NTB’s report.
“I think most people would understand that’s a bit lacking in solidarity,” he added.
Some wealthy countries, such as the United States, have chosen to keep hold of all of their vaccines instead of allowing them to be exported them to other countries.
On Monday they came under heavy criticism from the World Health Organisation which partly runs Covax.
“The gap (access to vaccines between rich and poor countries) is getting more grotesque every day and the the unfair distribution are economic and epidemic plan’s for rich countries that are doomed to fail,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Monday.
By February all 677,000 vaccines doses that Norway transferred had been delivered to poor countries.
The majority of the doses are of the AstraZeneca vaccine while the rest of the doses are of the Pfizer vaccine.