European drugmakers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline will provide 200 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to the World Health Organization's global immunization partnership Covax, which seeks to ensure coronavirus vaccines are distributed equitably across the world, the companies announced Wednesday.
Global health organizations including the GAVI vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO are leading the Covax effort, which is focused on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country. The deal is contingent on the vaccine winning regulatory approval, the companies said in a statement.
The initiative aims to deliver 2 billion doses of the vaccine by the end of 2021, though it's now competing for scarce doses of promising vaccines with some wealthy countries such as the United States that didn't join the Covax partnership and procured hundreds of millions of doses on their own.
"Since we started working on the development of COVID-19 vaccines, GSK has pledged to make them available to people around the world," Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines, said in a statement. He added that "this has the potential to be a significant contribution to the global fight against COVID-19."
More than 180 countries have so far joined Covax, the companies said. WHO says at least 78 higher-income countries, including China and the United Kingdom, have signed on.
The WHO has previously acknowledged that there won't be enough vaccine doses for everyone in the world once one candidate is authorized for use. The UN health agency has published allocation principles that countries can use to craft a plan for who would first receive the immunization when the country receives doses.
The WHO says it intends for all countries to receive enough doses to vaccinate 20% of their population, excluding countries that request fewer doses than that, before any country receives more doses.
Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and global head of Sanofi Pasteur, said their provision of doses demonstrates the company's "commitment to global health and ensures our COVID-19 vaccines are affordable and accessible to those most at risk, everywhere in the world."
Sanofi and GSK's vaccine is further behind in clinical development than some of the front-runners, such as Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which are all in late-stage trials. Sanofi and GSK said they anticipate results from their phase two trial in early December and will then launch a large phase three trial. The companies plan to request regulatory approval for the vaccine, if the data supports it, in the first half of 2021.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously said he's less concerned with acquiring doses of the first available vaccine and more concerned with acquiring a large amount of doses of all vaccines.
"The first vaccine to be approved may not be the best," he said last month. "The more shots on goal we have, the higher the chances of having a very safe, very efficacious vaccine."