Recently, I joined a panel at the Aspen Security Forum to discuss how we can best get vaccines in arms around the globe as we fight COVID-19. As I noted during my remarks, the world is more interconnected than ever before, which means that combating the COVID-19 pandemic can only be successful with effective international cooperation. One of the most important goals of that cooperation is equitable global vaccine distribution. We have to avoid nationalist, protectionist policies that would create inequities, leaving parts of the world substantially under-vaccinated, and limit our ability to slow COVID-19 infections around the globe.
The good news is that we are seeing substantial progress on global vaccine distribution, and the biopharmaceutical industry has made five commitments to ensure we can advance global COVID-19 vaccine equity.
- First, we need to step-up dose sharing. We are working with governments that have significant domestic supplies of COVID-19 vaccine doses to share a meaningful proportion of their doses with low- and lower-middle-income countries in a responsible and timely way through COVAX or other efficient established mechanisms.
- Second, we have to continue to increase manufacturing capacity around the globe. While our industry has globally delivered over 8 billion vaccines to date, we are continuing to undertake substantial efforts to maximize COVID-19 vaccine output without compromising safety and quality.
- Third, we must identify trade barriers for critical input materials and encourage governments to eliminate them. We support the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations’ (CEPI’s) effort to create an independent platform that would identify and address gaps in these inputs and facilitate voluntary matchmaking for fill and finish capacity through the newly established COVAX Supply Chain and Manufacturing Task Force. We are also urging governments, in coordination with the World Trade Organization (WTO), to eliminate trade barriers, including import impediments and export restrictions, reduce inappropriate regulatory barriers and to adopt policies that facilitate and expedite cross-border supply.
- Fourth, we are partnering with governments on COVID-19 vaccine deployment, particularly in low- and lower-middle income countries, to ensure that they are ready and able to deploy available doses within their shelf life.
- Fifth, we are prioritizing the development of new COVID-19 vaccines, including vaccines effective against variants of concern. We are also urging governments to guarantee unhindered access to pathogens (e.g., samples and sequences) of any COVID-19 variants to support the development of new vaccines and treatments.
These commitments are essential to the successful continuation of global vaccination efforts. While we have made substantial progress, we realize that there is more work to be done. But it is also essential that we don’t do anything that could hinder our progress in combatting COVID-19 and future public health emergencies. For example, the proposed WTO TRIPS waiver does nothing to address the real global challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.
In fact, it would do the opposite. Such a waiver would undermine our global response to the pandemic and potentially compromise patient safety through manufacturers lacking the technical and quality control expertise required. Additionally, it would sow confusion between public and private partners, and further weaken already strained global supply chains. And, perhaps most concerning, it would hinder manufacturers’ ongoing investments to ensure we are prepared for future pandemics and “superbugs” we may face like antimicrobial resistance.
The research behind COVID-19 vaccines is not a recipe that can be simply shared around the world; these are complex products resulting from decades of research and development with complex materials and manufacturing requirements as well as extensive quality control procedures that only qualified manufacturing partners can produce. Proposals to waive IP ignore the real challenges – getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. This requires addressing critical issues around ensuring a qualified health care provider work force and logistical hurdles to deliver vaccines to those who need them.
In contrast, a constructive WTO trade and health initiative – focused on such policies as refraining from export restrictions, eliminating tariffs, improving trade facilitation and strengthening regulatory cooperation and capacity building – could address both current and future challenges. Global health security is strongest when we are working together at the national, regional and global levels.
Biopharmaceutical manufacturers are working tirelessly in partnership with public and private organizations to overcome distribution challenges. We have made incredible progress to date and our commitments provide a path for stepping up our efforts now and for the future. Learn more a PhRMA.org/Coronavirus.