Expert voicesVol 25 No. 6 - June 2020

A vaccine will not end the pandemic unless everyone can get it

Nearly every day brings news of promising developments in the unprecedented global quest for a vaccine to COVID-19. Yet, finding an effective vaccine will not put an end to the pandemic unless countries can agree to cooperate on its development, production and distribution and ensure it is affordable and accessible to all, warns Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs at The New School and Member of the UN Committee for Development Policy.

If scientists announced tomorrow that they have found an effective and safe vaccine to COVID-19, what do you think would happen?

“Even when an effective vaccine is developed, it will not end the pandemic unless it is within reach of all people in all countries. And without production at scale, countries and pharmacies will be competing over scarce supplies. As the Financial Times wrote last week, ‘the ugly battle between nations over limited supplies of tests and personal protective equipment will be a sideshow compared to the scramble over a vaccine.”

Is there anything countries can do now to avoid this dog-eat-dog scenario?

“In a strong show of global solidarity, governments of the world at the World Health Assembly last week overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling for universal, affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. But this commitment itself will not be enough to make universal vaccine a reality. International cooperation is needed to finance research and development, and free up vaccines from monopoly pricing, exclusive production, and nationalistic distribution.

This will be difficult, and mired in the politics of contestation over intellectual property and sharing of knowledge in the pharmaceuticals sector. The World Health Assembly resolution makes an important commitment to use the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities that allow countries to import or produce vaccines for wide distribution at low cost. But there was also pushback from those who argued that patent protection was needed to incentivize private investment.”

How do you expect the situation to evolve from here?

“The language adopted stops short of the call, supported by many countries of the North and South, for a broader sharing of knowledge and eliminating monopolies on the essential vaccines and medicines to end the pandemic. The contestation will continue and compromises will be found. The urgency to end the pandemic, a precondition for economic revival, is an opportunity to mobilize new alliances and new multilateral action.”

To learn more, read Development Policy and Multilateralism after COVID-19 by the UN Committee for Development Policy

Follow Us