COVID-19: Many poor countries will see almost no vaccine next year, aid groups warn (BMJ)

Dr Latifa Haque
February 4, 2021

Many wealthy nations reserve more vaccines than they need. For example, Canada has bought enough to vaccinate their citizens 5 times each. On the other hand, around 90% of the people in 67 low-income countries won't be receiving a Covid-19 vaccination in 2021 as they cannot afford it. Currently, pharmaceutical companies are not sharing their intellectual property, so generic forms of the vaccine cannot be made for a cheaper price.

Food for Thought

Should wealthy countries be allowed to hoard the vaccine?

Developed countries have only 14% of the global population, yet have bought all the Moderna vaccine to be produced this year and 96% of the Pfizer vaccine. Many countries, namely Canada, the US, and the UK have bought enough vaccines to immunise their citizens between 3-5 times each. Should this be allowed? What will happen to the leftover vaccines? Should there be a limit to how many vaccines a country can buy? Should wealthier nations be expected to donate a share of their vaccines to developing countries?

Should pharmaceutical companies (who make vaccines) share the intellectual property?

Developers of the vaccine spend enormous amounts of both government money and private money researching and manufacturing the vaccine. They are then able to sell the vaccine to countries at whatever price they see fit to recover their cost. Unfortunately, this means many developing countries are unable to afford the vaccine. If the intellectual property rules were waived, the formula for the vaccine would be shared, so other pharmaceutical companies could make generic versions of the same vaccine. This means vaccines can be made in large quantities by lots of different companies, making the prices fall. The vaccine would then be more affordable and accessible for developing countries. Is this fair? Why do you think this hasn't been done yet?

Practice Interview QUestions
  1. Do you think pharmaceutical companies should be expected to share their intellectual property so other companies can make generic copies of it?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that there is equal access to the vaccine globally, and how can they achieve this?
  3. Think about the quote "You're only as healthy as your neighbour is." How does this quote apply to the uneven distribution of vaccines globally?
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