New Delhi: Over 170 countries are engaged in discussions with the World Health Organization (WHO) to participate in COVAX, its global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they receive regulatory approval.

As part of the self-financing facility of COVAX, countries will have to provide expression of intent by 31 August and to turn these into binding commitments by 18 September. The first upfront payments will have to be made no later than 9 October, the WHO said.

“The facility is the critical mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines so that whatever vaccine is proven to be safe and effective – all countries within the facility will be able to access them. Most importantly, it is the mechanism to enable a globally coordinated rollout. This is in the interests of all countries, even those that have invested with individual manufacturers independently,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Monday.

As discussions with countries is still ongoing, the WHO has not yet released a list of 172 countries which have shown interest, but WHO officials said that some of the countries are part of Gavi’s COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) already.

India is among the 92 low- and middle-income countries which are part of the covid-19 vaccine access programme.

Eighty higher-income economies, which would finance the vaccines from their own public finance budgets, have so far submitted expressions of interest ahead of the 31 August deadline, WHO said.

COVAX, a joint initiative by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the WHO, currently has nine candidate vaccines, which include two vaccines which are will be mass manufactured by Serum Institute of India, while conversations are underway with other producers of a further nine candidates, which are under clinical evaluation, the WHO said.

The two vaccines being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India that are part of the COVAX facility are those that are being developed by jointly by the University of Oxford and Astrazeneca plc, and another by US-based Novavax.

A collaboration between Serum Institute of India (SII), Gavi and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced earlier this month will ensure availability of up to 100 million doses of AstraZeneca or Novavax’s candidate vaccines, if successful, to low- and middle-income countries through the COVAX Facility at just $3 per dose. The arrangement also provides an option to secure additional doses if COVAX sees a need for it.

Gavi and CEPI also have an agreement with AstraZeneca, announced in June, for guaranteed supply of a further 300 million doses of their candidate vaccine, if successful, to the COVAX facility.

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