It’s not an exaggeration to say that the health of the world lies in the hands of Aurélia Nguyen. It’s Nguyen’s job, as managing director of the COVAX Facility, to ensure that the lifesaving and pandemic-ending vaccines developed against COVID-19 reach as many people around the world as possible. Public-health officials say that in today’s connected world, an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere. So only by vaccinating nearly everyone on the planet can we erect a human wall of immunity that’s harder for the virus to penetrate.
Nguyen oversees $6 billion in pledges from 98 wealthier countries to support COVAX, a joint endeavor of the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since November 2020, she’s led the facility’s mission to secure and distribute vaccines without charge to nearly 92 lower-resource nations that because of their smaller health care budgets would otherwise be shut out of orders for the shots. COVAX is competing with wealthier nations that are securing doses for themselves, and Nguyen admits that it’s “not going to be all smooth sailing.” But in 2021, she anticipates COVAX will distribute 2 billion doses to countries including India, Brazil and Nigeria. —Alice Park