WHO sees poorer countries getting first COVID vaccines this quarter


FILE PHOTO: The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

GENEVA (Reuters) - The first modest batches of coronavirus vaccines are expected to go out under the COVAX scheme for poorer countries in the first quarter of this year, the top World Health Organization scientist said on Friday.

"In the second and third quarters off this year is when we are really going to start seeing volumes," Soumya Swaminathan told a virtual briefing in Geneva.

The COVAX facility - backed by the WHO, GAVI the vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations - has raised $6 billion so far and ordered 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with options on 1 billion more.

With wealthy nations dominating early deliveries, however, the WHO fears scant remaining stockpiles could leave 92 lower- and lower-middle income nations out in the cold.

Swaminathan said at least 13 manufacturers had expressed interest in supplying COVAX and five were in discussions with WHO. Several vaccines were under assessment by its regulatory team.

WHO Assistant Director-General Mariangela Simao noted that 38 of the 46 countries that had started vaccinations were high- income countries, while the world needed to ensure all have access to safe and effective vaccines.

"This is not happening now in January but it is happening quite soon. We hope to have good news for you on this in February of this year," she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; Writing by Nick Macfie)

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