COVID-19 vaccine: 6 recommendations for equitable access

We’re in a time of unprecedented mobilisation to tackle COVID-19.

We’re in a time of unprecedented mobilisation to tackle COVID-19. Governments and philanthropies have contributed billions to the research and development of COVID-19 vaccines, while Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has recently launched a new fund – the COVAX Facility – to make advance purchases of COVID-19 vaccines. But did you know that this public money is being handed over to pharma corporations with almost no strings attached?

Heads of state have talked about making future COVID-19 vaccines ‘global public goods’. But what does that mean in practice?

Here are 6 recommendations to help ensure that future COVID-19 vaccines are accessible for everyone who needs them:

1. Strings attached

Public money shouldn’t be handed over to pharmaceutical corporations without conditions attached. Take, for example, Gavi’s deal with AstraZeneca: Gavi has already made a US$750 million advance deal with pharma corporation AstraZeneca to secure 300 million doses of a vaccine that hasn’t even been approved yet.

Seemingly, Gavi has not outlined any conditions or criteria for this investment: What happens if AstraZeneca’s product is not ultimately successful or if AstraZeneca is unable to meet the volumes stipulated?

If we don’t attach strings to public funding handed over to pharma corporations, the public could end up paying millions for a vaccine that never materialises, let alone one that is accessible & affordable. 

2. At-cost pricing

Governments and Gavi must require pharmaceutical corporations to commit to selling any potential future COVID-19 vaccines at cost.

Pharma corporations must not be allowed to profiteer off of this global pandemic, at the expense of millions of people who will be left behind if future COVID-19 vaccines are too expensive.

Of course, we can’t ensure an at-cost price without…

3. Transparency

It’s not enough for pharma corporations to promise to sell vaccines at ‘not-for-profit’ prices.

Gavi, and governments that contribute public funds to develop COVID-19 vaccines, must require pharma corporations to open their books and show the public all research & development and production costs.

The public pay for the development of COVID-19 vaccines through their taxes, and therefore deserve transparency on how the public money that is handed over to pharma corporations is used.

4. Deciding together

Developing countries and civil society organisations must have a meaningful role in the design of the COVAX Facility and in decisions on pricing and distribution.

The COVAX Facility could greatly impact countries’ ability to serve people’s health needs in the face of COVID-19, so the right voices must be at the table to ensure the Facility is appropriately designed to serve the needs of the most vulnerable populations.

5. Equity

We need global solidarity to tackle this global pandemic, and we can’t have two systems for countries that can afford future COVID-19 vaccines and those that can’t afford them.

The latest draft of the COVAX Facility document proposes a two-tiered system of access, which will not ensure global equity.

Additionally, we can’t allow nationalist interests to get in the way of ensuring that any future COVID-19 vaccines are available and accessible to everyone and are not just a luxury for the few.

Intellectual property, technologies, know-how and data must be shared, so that when a COVID-19 vaccine candidate proves successful, the world is given the best chance to rapidly scale-up manufacturing and distribution.

6. Global public good

Several heads of state have already referred to future COVID-19 vaccines as ‘global public goods’, or the ‘people’s vaccine’.

But so far, Gavi and governments have not delivered on this claim. In the current setup, pharmaceutical corporations are being allowed to retain and pursue intellectual property rights to the vaccines under development. As long as the intellectual property rights of COVID-19 vaccines belong to pharmaceutical corporations, they are proprietary vaccines rather than ‘the people’s vaccine’.

Pharma alone shouldn’t decide who gets access to COVID-19 vaccines funded by the public. It’s time to make global public goods a reality!

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