The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has said the COVAX vaccine-sharing program is struggling to hit its targets because of scant Covid jab supplies and competition between countries and agencies.

Speaking to the Atlantic Council on Tuesday in an interview online, WTO director-general Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said “supply scarcity” is driving economic behavior and hampering the COVAX program in meeting its vaccine-distributing goals. 

“Many of them [countries] supported COVAX, but many of them bid away vaccines from COVAX and that is why COVAX has been struggling to deliver what it should,” she stated.

The COVAX vaccine-sharing program, which is hosted by the GAVI vaccine initiative and works with partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the World Food Programme, aimed to secure some two billion vaccine doses for lower-income countries by the end of 2021.

By the end of June, COVAX had delivered 90 million doses to 132 countries since the scheme started in February. The initiative has been largely hampered by supply challenges, notably a near-complete ban on the export of vaccines in India, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, due to the health crisis there.  

In a revised estimate, the GAVI vaccine alliance more recently said it hoped to deliver 1.8 billion doses to lower-income economies by the first quarter of 2022.

Health experts and the WHO have repeatedly warned against still-widening vaccine inequality, with many developed nations having inoculated large proportions of their adult population while developing countries were struggling to procure shots.

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