Leaders of an international body established to promote global access to coronavirus vaccines, known as Covax, announced on Friday that the effort had reached additional deals with manufacturers that would allow it to access nearly two billion doses of candidate vaccines, more than half of them intended to be delivered to low- and middle-income countries.
The effort’s goal is to ensure vaccination for a fifth of the population of its 190 participating countries and economies before the end of next year.
The new deals involve vaccines that are still being studied for effectiveness and safety, one made by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and another by Johnson & Johnson. While discussions have been underway, no arrangements have yet been finalized to procure the FDA-approved BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine that is already being administered in countries including the United States and Britain.
The international effort has been led by the public-private health partnership known as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as well as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization.
Friday’s announcement included the news that a mechanism had been developed so that countries with excess doses could share them.
Many high-income nations have made arrangements with multiple manufacturers that could result in significantly more doses than needed to vaccinate their entire populations. Officials from Canada and France announced that they intended to contribute their extra doses through Covax, although they did not specify a timeline, or say whether they would vaccinate their entire populations first.
France will “start sharing vaccines as early as possible,” Stephanie Seydoux, the country’s ambassador to global health, said at a news conference.
In other developments around the world:
In South Africa, scientists and health officials announced on Friday the discovery of a new lineage of the coronavirus that has quickly come to dominate samples of virus tested in the country. The variant, named 501.V2, has also been associated in a preliminary analysis with faster spread and a higher load of virus found in swabs. Scientists are examining it closely because the variant includes several changes in the part of the virus that allows it to attach to human cells, which is a key target for antibody therapies and vaccines.
In Europe, a patchwork of policies are in place across the continent in the lead-up to Christmas as deaths pass 500,000. . Germany has introduced a strict lockdown for Christmas week, and the Netherlands and Italy will have more stringent measures in place over the holiday. France and Spain have some restrictions in place, but have resisted full new national lockdowns. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticized for lifting restrictions on Christmas gatherings even as new infections spike. The World Health Organization’s regional director Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge said in a statement on Friday that now was not the time for Europeans to loosen restrictions.
As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in Sweden, the government issued several new recommendations Friday, including the use of face masks. “We need to do more now because the medical system is strained,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said. Included in the new recommendations is a four-person per table limit in restaurants, cafés and bars and a ban on the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m. Stores, shopping centers and gyms are asked to further limit the number of customers.