Switzerland cedes vaccine priority to developing countries

Several vials of ice cold Covid vaccine with purple lids
Switzerland will give vaccine priority to developing countries. Photo: ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP
Switzerland on Wednesday agreed to swap places in the Covid-19 vaccine delivery queue, becoming the first country to give up its slot in favour of the global equitable jabs access scheme.

The switch means a million doses of US manufacturer Moderna’s two-shot vaccine will be made available to the Covax alliance before the end of December.

Switzerland will take Covax’s slot and receive a million Moderna doses in 2022.

“This collaboration shows that there is a quick and pragmatic way governments can ensure Covax participants in lower-income countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines now,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, which handles the facility’s contracts.

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“I encourage other governments to follow this example and work with Covax and manufacturers to amend delivery schedules.”

Covax is co-led by the World Health Organisation, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

It was established to ensure poorer countries get Covid jabs and had hoped to deliver two billion doses in 2021, with the cost covered by donors for the poorest 92 territories.

But wealthy nations have hogged doses straight off the production lines and it has so far shipped only 507 million vaccine doses to 144 economies.

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In Switzerland, 65 percent of people are fully immunised, mostly with Moderna, while a further two percent have had their first dose of a two-shot vaccine.

The vaccination rate has been flagging in recent months. For months, Covax has been crying out for countries with ample vaccination coverage to allow less fortunate countries to access doses.

Getting pre-planned orders straight off the production lines is a less haphazard way of receiving doses rather than wealthy countries donating surplus jabs, which may be close to expiry.

Switzerland’s move comes just ahead of the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference next week, which will try to find consensus on temporarily lifting intellectual property rights on Covid vaccines.

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Proponents argue this would boost production and address the gaping inequity in access between rich and poor nations.

But there appears to be little likelihood of a deal, amid opposition from a number of wealthy countries that host large pharmaceutical companies.

Switzerland — where the pharmaceutical industry weighs heavily on the economy — is one of the hold-outs, and the wealthy Alpine nation has been sharply criticised for its stance by non-governmental organisations and countries backing the proposal.


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