We know that vaccines against COVID-19 work, but someone must pay for them. Both Pfizer and Moderna will make huge profits. Similarly, Astra Zeneca, with its much-publicized “non-profit” model, will receive billions in revenue and can raise the price once the pandemic is over. Unfortunately, around the world and in the middle of a surge in cases due to the Delta variant, access to vaccines is not equitable. The 50 least wealthy nations, home to 20% of the world’s population, have received just 2% of all vaccine doses.
Global health inequity
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” However, preventable deaths and illness due to COVID-19 are occurring across Africa, Asia, and Latin America at an unprecedented speed and scale. Meanwhile, Canada purchased enough doses to vaccinate its citizens five times over and the U.K. has enough doses for four times its population. By the end of 2021, rich nations will have one billion unused doses. To try to prevent such hoarding, a global vaccine sharing mechanism called COVAX was launched in 2020. COVAX aimed to buy enough doses to vaccinate at least 20% of people in 92 poorer countries by the end of 2021. Sadly, this has not happened, as COVAX has struggled to raise enough funds to buy vaccines.
Call to action
Another approach is to allow scientists in rich nations to share their knowledge and expertise in making vaccines to enable Africa, Asia, and Latin America to produce their own vaccines. This would move away from intellectual property rights prohibiting the sharing of this knowledge.
During the AIDS crisis, for instance, progress was made eventually by relaxation of intellectual property rights, technology transfer, and support to establish regional vaccine manufacturing hubs. While progress in this area is very slow, we should be able to do this with COVID-19.