Corona Vaccine for All: A Case for Universal Access
Inspite of the fact that when hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines have been administered to people, everyday more than 3.5 lakhs of individuals are getting infected with virus and more than 7 thousands individuals giving their life to this undying virus. — Dr. Rajeev Upadhyay
Corona virus has already infected more than 18 crores people across the globe. More than 39 lakh individuals have also succumbed to this deadly virus. These are the reported statistics relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Lakhs of people are left with no family and thousands of children have become orphans. Crores of people across the globe have lost their livelihoods and have been forced into the vicious circle of poverty and are struggling for a square meal a day! World economy is left in lurch and there lies only uncertainties ahead. All this is happening when the governments, non-governmental organizations as well as the citizens across the world have been trying to provide the maximum support to everyone in need in the times of pandemic! Even at this point of time when hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines have been administered to people, everyday more than 3.5 lakhs of individuals are getting infected with the virus and more than 7 thousands individuals giving their life to this undying virus.
India doesn’t have a different story. The state of affairs in India during the second wave has been really heart-breaking as the whole healthcare system completely collapsed to even provide with required medicines live apart from hospitalization, oxygen support and other facilities. All this happened in India when it had almost won the battle against the deadly virus! Countries like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia etc. are forced to share similar experiences. In the first wave, the whole of Europe, the United States and other countries have witnessed similar horrifying stories where crematoriums were unable to provide proper last rites to the people!
Considering the high infectious nature and the widespread impacts of the virus on the world as well as its ability to change its inherent nature, there remains no doubt that the fate of humanity is at risk at large. As a result of the horrifying impacts of the Coronavirus, the whole world is in distress in varying degrees and there looks to be no light at the end of the tunnel other than the vaccine for the coronavirus! Medical experts along with the World Health Organizations are anonymous for some time that they are the only vaccines which can help humanity at this point of time in history as no medicine can provide a shield against the coronavirus for sure!
Different countries across the world have been able to develop dozens of the vaccines for the coronavirus. Several pharmaceutical companies are working day and night to manufacture enough doses of the vaccines. But the demand for the vaccines surpasses the supply. Even India, the biggest supplier of vaccines, is unable to supply enough vaccines for its people in the last few weeks. Many countries in the world hardly have access to the vaccines even after a lot of the efforts of the WHO and so called vaccine diplomacy. The horrifying situation, that the world is forced to witness demands for the universal access to the coronavirus vaccines for the lowest possible or no costs to ensure life returns back to normal! This would be possible only when these vaccines are available in abundance. The world must understand that the money spent on vaccines at present is not expenditure but investment and the world must work in tandem and unite to win this battle against the coronavirus.
From the experiences till now, it can be said with certainty that with the current manufacturing capacity for the vaccines in the whole world, it will take years before the whole world is fully vaccinated. This is a risk which the world cannot afford at all at this point of time. So there remains only one solution to this problem: that the required technology and knowledge is transferred to every single existing and probable vaccine manufacturer in the world at no cost or the lowest possible cost without caring much about the intellectual property right and patents. It’s true that to turn this into a reality, the laws relating to intellectual property rights and patents are the biggest barriers. As per WTO TRIPS, the intellectual property rights as well as the patent rights must be protected by the nation states. But in times of global crisis, the signatory countries unanimously must come together to enable this so that signatory countries can enact or amend the required laws in their respective countries or can make this legally possible.
It is a well known fact that the companies involved in the vaccine development process have to invest huge sums of money to come up with a vaccine or medicine for any disease or medical condition. As a practice, to recover that cost, the companies either sell the vaccines to the end user at profit by manufacturing themselves or give the right to other companies to manufacture the vaccines for royalty. This practice makes it a prohibitive and costly process for the companies to manufacture and distribute vaccines. But at this point of the time, the governments and international bodies can come to a rescue. The governments and international bodies can unanimously agree to a set of terms and conditions for compensating the cost plus a nominal margin to the pharmaceutical companies against the universal access to the required technology and knowledge to all vaccine manufacturers including probable manufacturers. The cost may be borne by the nation states and international bodies. However, this process must ensure that the interest of every single entity (research as well as manufacturing bodies) is taken care of and no manufacturing company is capable of exploiting the end consumers. Such practices followed by the national government will ensure that the research and manufacturing environment is not compromised in the country. Apart from this, the governments also have to centrally procure the vaccines from the manufacturers so that there remains no pricing disparity in the different markets in the same country.
Dr Rajeev Upadhyay: Assistant Professor, Sri Aurobindo College (E), University of Delhi