The Failure of COVAX: A Predictable Outcome

January 26, 2024

Paper | This paper demonstrates that COVAX, the primary international public effort aimed at making yet-to-be-developed vaccines available to poorer countries, was outcompeted for limited supply of vaccines by richer counties who enjoy greater purchasing power.

By: Sanjay Reddy (The New School for Social Research Department of Economics) and Arnab Acharya (International Initiative for Impact Evaluation)

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was little cohesion in international efforts to combat the spread of the illness.  The paper shows COVAX, which was led by the World Health Organization and Gavi, failed to fulfill its own targets and broader equity goals. The contribution made by COVAX to vaccine access in poorer countries came only late in 2022, 15-18 months after the time many richer countries had made significant inroads into vaccinating much of their populations; and by that time many poor countries had purchased their own vaccines, often with lower efficacy than those procured by rich countries). This failure could have been predicted, and resulted from the weak conceptual thinking underlying COVAX. The paper suggests that future supply-side public health responses could include freeing intellectual property rights for vaccines early on through public buyouts, compulsory licensing and inducements for technical assistance. On the demand side, greater financial support for direct purchases would be a more effective response.

Read the paper here.