While COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out throughout the UK and mainly developed countries, many more countries are struggling with access to this vaccine. Alexandre Perin and Eloi Mabille de Poncheville take a closer look at the issue with vaccination being a common good to all.
“For the world to recover faster we must recover together” (Dr. Tedros)
In order to achieve this goal, in August 2020, Dr Tedros of the World Health Organisation (WHO) asked countries to organise their plans around two main objectives: to speed up the production of vaccines and to make them fairly available to populations who may not have access to them due to national crisis.
As we were all hit by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, world leaders called for solidarity between countries. António Guterres, the United Nations (UN) General Secretary said that “a COVID-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good”. The French and German leaders Macron and Merkel also called, last May, for the vaccine to be a public good and available to all. After more than a year of sacrifices, will these declarations finally turn into actions or will they remain mere declarations of goodwill?
For everyone to fight the pandemic and economic consequences, it appears that the vaccine is the most useful tool in this battle. As we approach 200 million vaccines produced worldwide, we see how long the process to vaccinate everyone will be. Scientists agree that at least 70% of the world population needs to be vaccinated in order to eradicate the coronavirus. There is no point in only vaccinating people in more economically developed countries; if we are not able to achieve vaccination worldwide, the virus will continue to mutate and the vaccine efficiency will be reduced. In other words, the longer we take to produce and deliver vaccines to not only in the UK but also worldwide, the longer the pandemic will stay for everyone. Therefore, it is important to have the most efficient process in producing and delivering vaccines to all.
As things stand, the economically-prospering countries have ordered more than triple than what they need in vaccines and the economically-developing countries are not even sure if they will be able to implement widespread vaccination before 2023. The contrast is huge, with Canada virtually able to vaccinate its entire population 5 times with the doses it bought versus the 70 other economically-challenged nations that won’t even be able to vaccinate one in ten people by the end of 2021. One of the ideas to speed up and deliver the vaccine would be to make all of the available vaccines a global public good and free from any patents.
A vaccine free from patents would allow pharmaceutical companies around the world to produce the vaccines, which would make the production faster and in much larger quantities. It would also reduce the cost for countries as more companies would be involved in the production.
The companies that are producing vaccines received 5 billion dollars of public money to develop and yet not one of the dozens of vaccines that exist is a global public good. For example, the Pfizer vaccines that received half a billion dollars in public funding from the European Union (EU) and German government will be selling at an 80% profit margin during the pandemic. 
By letting the market dictate who has the right to get vaccinated based on their country’s wealth, people’s lives are being put at risk. Here, we must question the morality of making a profit off vaccines while people die because it is not available everywhere. Is it ethical to allow companies to set their own price on life-saving vaccines? Most pharmaceutical drug prices in Europe are regulated to prevent hikes and to allow everyone to have access to these drugs. It would thus seem pretty appropriate to prevent companies from making huge profits off a vaccine. These are goods that should be kept out of the market competition.
Furthermore, healthcare workers and research efforts in finding and distributing the vaccine are based on intrinsic values. These being curing and helping people.
Therefore, doctors, professors, and politicians are trying to raise their voice to have vaccines’ patents removed. 25 Nobel laureates have signed an appeal to make the vaccine a global common good at Vaccine Common Good. At the World Trade Organisation (WTO), South Africa and India have made a proposal to waive intellectual property rights until everyone is protected. Recently on the 20th of February, a new appeal was signed by a group of international politicians but also human right activists, economists, philosophers and journalists. This appeal proclaims that money should never be a curb to global health.
As for the leaders who asked for the vaccine to be a public good while it was still being developed, it would seem that some of them only made empty promises. For instance, French President Macron did not renew his statement now that the vaccine exists to make it a public good. However, he did start working with other economically-prospering countries to transfer 3-5% of their vaccines to less economically-developed states.
For all of these reasons the vaccine, which is regarded as a beacon of hope by all, must be available to every individual.
Patents are not an obstacle to ramp up COVID-19 vaccines production, EU says