BERNE: How vaccines can be distributed equitably to the world’s population has upset world leaders and international agencies since the first vaccines against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were made available late last year .
The issue was high on the agenda of the recent General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO), and G7 heads of state are sure to give it more thought when they meet. will meet this weekend.
Until a sufficiently large proportion of the world’s population is vaccinated against COVID-19, the pandemic cannot be considered over.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, recently urged countries to commit to vaccinating at least 10 percent of their population by September and 30 percent by the end of the year.
The intensification of the global immunization campaign could benefit economies at all levels. The International Monetary Fund recently predicted that a successful immunization program, funded to the tune of $ 50 billion, could add up to $ 9 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
It is with this in mind that world leaders view the delivery of vaccines to the developing world not only as a humanitarian imperative, but also as an economic necessity.
There are also the practicalities of such a gigantic business to consider.
According to Our World in Data, a research tool compiled by analysts at the University of Oxford’s Global Change Data Lab, 63% of Israelis, 60% of Britons and 52% of Americans had received at least one dose of one. COVID-19 vaccine. to June 6.
In contrast, in the world’s emerging economies, only 23% of Brazilians and 13% of Indians had their first jab, while the average across Africa was less than 2%.
Likewise, while most countries in the developed world have ordered enough doses to immunize their entire population multiple times, only 0.4% of vaccines have been given in low-income countries, according to the WHO.
The question now is how to remedy this shocking imbalance.
One option is COVAX, an initiative designed over a year ago to address the issue of equitable vaccine distribution to low-income countries. It is led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership with the WHO.
World leaders have made many commitments to help developing countries immunize their people. On May 21, Italy chaired a world health summit that culminated in the Rome Declaration, setting out guiding principles for equitable distribution of vaccines.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged $ 1.2 billion to the effort, while China has said it will donate $ 3 billion over the next three years. France has offered 500 million euros ($ 608 million) to the G20’s COVID-19 Tool Access Accelerator (ACT) and 30 million doses, while the United States has pledged to share its doses surplus with the poorest countries.
On June 2, Japan and Gavi hosted a joint virtual summit, which raised $ 2.4 billion to support immunization efforts in low-income countries. Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Sweden and Spain have also allocated 54 million of their excess doses for shipping to poorer countries.
Although well intentioned, all of these efforts have failed. Gavi has so far shipped over 77 million doses to 127 countries. Compare that with the 2 billion-plus doses the US and EU ordered in March – for a combined population of just under 800 million.
No wonder how these vaccines are shared has come under such scrutiny.
India and South Africa have proposed patent waivers for COVID-19 vaccines so they can be produced more affordably and where they are needed most.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration of US President Joe Biden would support such a dialogue on waiving patent rights through the World Trade Organization (WTO). With the United States long a staunch defender of intellectual property rights, this about-face came as a surprise.
Pharmaceutical companies, including those in Europe and Japan, are not in favor of the idea, although the EU has expressed an interest, as has China. The proposal also has the backing of WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former vice president of the World Bank, Nigerian finance minister and outgoing president of Gavi.
Nonetheless, the path to the WTO would not be quick or easy, as any resolution would require unanimous approval. Moreover, such a resolution would run counter to the agreement on the commercial aspects of intellectual property rights.
This week, the WTO will discuss an alternative EU proposal, which contemplates a compulsory licensing process involving a (minimal) fee.
Patent waivers for vaccines raise all kinds of questions, including whether there can be intellectual property for an international public good, or whether the inventor of an international public good deserves compensation. The EU license proposal is a similar cause for concern with regard to intellectual property rights.
These are not just moral questions; it is an economic issue, which could influence the willingness of the private sector to help shape solutions to global problems well beyond the scope of the current pandemic.
As world powers debate the intricacies of capitalism, the search for a better framework for vaccine distribution continues. Vaccine production has increased dramatically, with 250 million doses shipped last week.
A Bloomberg report says an additional 6 billion doses are expected to be distributed by the end of the year. Pfizer has provided the poorest countries with 1 billion doses in 2022. Moderna and other vaccine makers have made similar commitments.
This shows that the pharmaceutical industry is aware of the challenges for global public health as well as for their economic models.
However, the success of a global immunization campaign will depend on factors other than intellectual property rights, the condition of local governance and infrastructure being just two of them.
There is also a geopolitical dimension. China and Russia may well support India and South Africa in their quest to get COVID-19 vaccine patents lifted because Moscow and Beijing have used their own vaccines to bolster their geopolitical influence, in particular in the poorest countries, by exerting control over their country private sectors.
In the United States, the Biden administration’s willingness to engage in the patent debate plays well with the left wing of the Democratic Party. However, significant lobbying efforts are expected from the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries to avoid such a derogation.
In market economies, incentives take the form of offsets, which determine the behavior of firms and investors. Companies that lack investment do not have the capital to fund research, unless it is a national imperative. This is particularly pronounced in the defense industry.
The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year has been largely driven and funded by private companies and capital. Much will depend on the outcome of the WTO talks, as they may well determine the viability of the pharmaceutical industry as a private enterprise and shape the future of public-private partnerships.