Private sector can help accelerate an equitable COVID-19 vaccine rollout – here’s how

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Colin Godbarge, Principal, KOIS & Clara Marköö, Analyst, KOIS


  • COVID-19 vaccinations bring hope to ending the pandemic but the global effort faces many challenges.
  • Greater public-private sector collaboration is needed to ensure rapid and fair distribution.
  • The private sector can play a vital role in securing vital funds to ensure this humanitarian task succeeds.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about impressive achievements in the world of vaccine research, with vaccines being developed at record speed. In the five months since the mass vaccination began, at least 900 million doses have been administered. While this brings hope of an end to the pandemic, ensuring that billions of people across the world get the vaccine will be a massive challenge. From securing enough supply, to enabling the fastest and largest vaccine roll-out yet, substantial support is critically needed from governments and the private sector alike.

The argument for supporting the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out could not be clearer. More than 3 million people have lost their lives to the virus worldwide. In addition to this devastating human cost, the global economy could be deprived of up to $9.2 trillion if COVID-19 vaccines are not distributed globally.

So how can the private sector contribute to one of the most pressing challenges of our time?

Vaccine availability: ensuring that no one will be left behind

The global supply of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to fall short of demand in 2021. As a result, in many parts of the world, people may need to wait up to three years to get the jab, during which time the virus will continue to spread.

Most of the shortfall will impact low and middle-income countries (LMIC). To date, over 87% of vaccine doses have gone to high-income or upper-middle-income countries, with LMIC having received just 0.2%. This is partly because richer countries have secured vaccines through bilateral deals. In contrast, most LMIC are relying on the COVAX facility. Through COVAX, 92 LMIC will get doses for free. Additionally, all countries, regardless of income level, would have equal access to vaccines at the same time. health and healthcare, COVID

How has the Forum navigated the global response to COVID-19?

One year on: we look back at how the Forum’s networks have navigated the global response to COVID-19.

Using a multistakeholder approach, the Forum and its partners through its COVID Action Platform have provided countless solutions to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, protecting lives and livelihoods.How can we collaborate to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Throughout 2020, along with launching its COVID Action Platform, the Forum and its Partners launched more than 40 initiatives in response to the pandemic.

The work continues. As one example, the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs is supporting 90,000 social entrepreneurs, with an impact on 1.4 billion people, working to serve the needs of excluded, marginalized and vulnerable groups in more than 190 countries.

Read more about the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, our support of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemics Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI), and the COVAX initiative and innovative approaches to solve the pandemic, like our Common Trust Network – aiming to help roll out a “digital passport” in our Impact Story.

To date, COVAX has delivered more than 40 million doses globally, and despite reduced supply availability in recent months, it plans to secure up to 1.8 billion doses in 2021. But COVAX has struggled to mobilise the support needed from donors to subsidise the facility, and is in need of $2 billion before June 2021.

Enabling the fastest and largest vaccine roll-out yet

Even if we succeed to bridge the funding gap for vaccine procurement, most countries will struggle with the delivery. In fact, few have the required capacity to accompany the unprecedented speed and scale of the vaccine roll-out. Countries are in urgent need of both technical and financial support to strengthen supply chains and introduce outreach campaigns to combat misinformation. Cold-chain equipment, storage and last-mile logistics remain three critical issues, especially in places without reliable electricity and refrigeration.

UNICEF, the organisation leading the effort to supply COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of COVAX, has called for $659 million in 2021, including $510 million to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to LMIC.

Private sector’s role in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

1. Leverage its capabilities to provide in-kind support

Companies across the world are exploring how they can use their services, infrastructure and expertise to support the vaccine roll-out. In Washington State, Starbucks employees are supporting the government to improve the operational efficiency of vaccination sites. In Israel, IKEA is offering COVID-19 vaccinations in stores. In Ghana, Zipline, in partnership with UPS Foundation, delivers vaccines to health facilities using autonomous drones. Over 10 leading airlines have signed agreements with UNICEF to support the prioritization of delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

2. Provide crucial funding support

To bridge the funding gaps of key mechanisms, private funders will need to join forces with public donors and supply a substantial amount of financial support. To date, only 3% of the secured COVAX funding is coming from private and philanthropic donors such as Mastercard, TransferWise and TikTok. More is needed.

In addition to this much-needed direct grant support, the private sector can strategically use its funds to be catalytic and maximise the impact.

• Mobilize other funders by aggregating funding.The urgency and magnitude of the funding gaps call for a coordinated approach from public and private donors alike. Yet, many small-sized private actors may find it difficult to know how to best support the vaccine roll-out. By aggregating grant funding through a pooled fund or matching commitments, funders can mobilize more and bigger donations from diverse co-funders.

• Funders can provide concessional support to financially constrained private and public actors involved in the vaccine roll-out. Improving the efficiency of the vaccine roll-out requires investment in those public and private actors involved in its supply chain. However, securing funding for investment can be difficult, especially for small and medium sized actors in deprived sectors and geographies. With concessional financing, funders can support local actors to invest in their services to better meet the needs of the vaccine roll-out.

Results-based finance.With traditional grant funding, funding is tied to inputs and not achievement of outcomes. In other words, funders have little guarantee that the intended outcomes will be met. Results-based finance can be an effective mechanism in improving accountability and outcomes per dollar spent on the vaccination support.

The way forward

KOIS is working with a global corporation to explore how they can best support COVID-19 vaccination across their local markets. We would like to call on other private and philanthropic actors that wish to support COVID-19 vaccination to also get involved. The time to act is now.

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