Brussels (ANTARA) – Pfizer and BioNtech will replace AstraZeneca as the main suppliers of a COVID-19 vaccine for the global COVAX program in early 2022, a change that shows the growing importance of their injections for poor countries.
The anticipated change poses problems for recipient countries who do not have cold storage capacity to store Pfizer vaccine, as there is a risk that the syringes needed for vaccination will run out.
Currently, the vaccine made by AstraZeneca is the most widely used vaccine by COVAX, according to Gavi, the alliance that COVAX manages with the World Health Organization (WHO).
To date, the program has distributed more than 600 million injections in nearly 150 countries with more than 220 million AstraZeneca vaccines and 160 million Pfizer vaccines.
However, Pfizer is slated to replace AstraZeneca in the first quarter of next year, according to Gavi and WHO figures on doses subject to the COVAX program for future shipments.
According to the WHO document, 150 million doses of Pfizer will be distributed by COVAX by the end of March.
A Gavi spokesperson confirmed that Pfizer has a superior position in “allocated” injections with approximately 470 dispensed or ready-to-administer doses, compared to AstraZeneca’s 350 million.
Pfizer is the premier supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the European Union, US, and Japan.
The company has signed bilateral contracts totaling more than six billion doses and makes Pfizer the largest supplier of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to UNICEF, the United Nations agency.
However, AstraZeneca is considered a major supplier to developing countries as its vaccines are cheaper and easier to ship.
At the beginning of the pandemic, COVAX had great confidence in AstraZeneca. However, issues related to delivery and export bans from India as a manufacturer have gradually diminished confidence in AstraZeneca.
With COVAX struggling to source vaccines directly from manufacturers in the face of global injection sourcing difficulties, donations from developed countries are becoming increasingly important, making Pfizer a key supplier of COVAX. The United States provides Pfizer vaccine grants primarily to the program.
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Cold chains and syringes
The changes prompted Gavi to quickly invest in cold chain capacity in recipient countries that have no refrigeration or refrigerated transport to store Pfizer vaccine injections, which require storage at lower temperatures than AstraZeneca vaccines.
The organization has warned of insufficient cold chain capacity in some countries, according to an internal report submitted to Gavi’s board of directors in early December and viewed by Reuters. Gavi warned in the document that the problem was exacerbated by the risk of a shortage of specialty syringes needed to give the Pfizer vaccine.
“Pfizer injections have been the most difficult to dispense because of the need for ultra-cold chains and special syringe requirements,” Gavi said in his internal document.
The document states: “These are also the most difficult to plan because these (donated vaccines) are often delivered on a short-term or unstable basis and in small quantities and with a short shelf life.”
Rich countries that donate the COVID-19 vaccine with a relatively short shelf life have become a “big problem” for COVAX, a WHO official said last week because of wasted doses.
An EU official said at a press conference last week that the EU’s donation of the Pfizer vaccine to COVAX was hampered by a shortage of syringes. Another official familiar with the problem told Reuters that Gavi had to postpone shipping several doses of Pfizer from Europe due to a shortage of syringes.
Pfizer declined to comment on the syringes as they do not make or buy them directly. Given that more doses are available to poorer countries, UNICEF and WHO have long warned of a shortage of self-deactivating syringes, which are crucial for vaccination in poor countries.
Self-stopping syringes can lock automatically to prevent reuse, which is usually the case in poor countries and can spread disease.
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Translator: Arie Cindyara
Editor: D.Dj. Kliwantoro
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