With more than 107 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, more contagious strains evolving at an alarming speed from the UK to Brazil, and recent shortages of vaccines supplies, we are now at a tipping point in the fight against COVID-19.
The only one way out of this pandemic is to get vaccines, tests, and treatments to every corner of the planet. Simply vaccinating European citizens won’t work. If vaccines are not available to everyone, everywhere, more resistant variants could develop and undermine vaccine efforts.
European leaders’ choices over the coming weeks and months will determine whether vaccines reach every part of the world as fast as possible or if we give space to the virus to devastate lives and livelihoods everywhere. To strike this balance right, the EU must choose to treat COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments as global public goods.
This is the chance for European leaders to put vaccine equity at the heart of the EU’s COVID-19 response with three concrete actions:
1. Share COVID-19 vaccine doses with lower-income countries fairly and quickly.
The EU has signed contracts on behalf of all member states amounting to 2.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, enough to vaccinate the bloc’s population more than twice over. If rich countries monopolise access and simply vaccinate themselves, twice as many people could die from the virus. EU leaders need to quickly put in place a plan to share excess doses, coordinating with the vaccine arm of the ACT-Accelerator to ensure fair distribution and following equity, transparency, and speed standards.
2. Increase financing to the World Health Organisation’s ACT-Accelerator, the global platform that increases access to tests, treatments, and vaccines for all.
The WHO’s global initiative is a global cooperation of countries and organizations around the world, and it’s the best chance we have to get the right vaccines and tools to every corner of our planet.
Compared to the US$12 trillion that G20 countries have already spent on mitigating the pandemic’s consequences, the amount needed to ensure the ACT Accelerator’s work is minimal. The European Commission needs to step up and contribute its fair share to ensure the ACT Accelerator gets fully funded.
3. Increase the number of vaccines available.
The World Trade Organization is currently considering a proposal backed by 100 countries for a temporary TRIPS waiver – TRIPS being the set of agreed-upon regulations that cover a range of products, including vaccines and therapeutics. The TRIPS regime is complicated, not least because it encompasses determinations on intellectual property rights. It’s also controversial, and countries have strong views for and against. However, in the urgency of now, we believe that WTO members should temporarily loosen trade restrictions that prevent the timely manufacture of vaccines. This is not a silver bullet, nor a long-term solution, but rather a temporary tool so that vaccines and therapeutics can be licensed to and produced by as many companies as possible, in as many countries as possible.
European leaders have a unique chance to chart a course out of this pandemic. Because the pandemic isn’t going anywhere until we beat it everywhere.