On February 24, 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Accra, Ghana. Two days later, another 504,000 doses arrived in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. On Tuesday, 3.92 million vaccine doses arrived in Abuja, Nigeria and a further 324,000 arrived in Dakar, Senegal the following day. These were the first international deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility, and—with the first doses administered in both countries just days later—the first steps in what will be the largest immunization campaign in world history. Hopefully, these milestones represent a turning point in the world’s response to the pandemic.

A wide-ranging coalition of international public health organisations and other partners, COVAX aims to ensure that every nation, regardless of resources, gets the vaccines needed to protect its people from this devastating virus. A large part of the developing world, including most of Africa, has too often been forced to wait for lifesaving innovations and treatments. Because of this chronic lack of equitable access, disease and poverty linger. COVAX was created at the start of the pandemic to mitigate these inequities. It plans to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses all over the world in 2021, including 1.3 billion to low- and middle-income countries.

This ambitious international campaign is especially crucial given the deep disparities that have marked COVID-19 vaccine distribution so far. Until very recently, the world’s richest nations had received almost all of the vaccine supply. As a result, even as some high-income nations have already immunized more than 20% of their population with at least one dose, only a few African countries have reached even 1 in 1,000 people. It is frankly impossible to defeat the virus if these disparities persist. If everyone doesn’t have the chance to get immunized, the world economy could lose as much as US$9.2 trillion and twice as many people could perish needlessly.

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