Protecting Global Public Health

UN experts urge WTO cooperation on vaccines

Diplomatic Correspondent

2 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

UN experts on Monday said billions of people, especially in the Global South, risk being excluded from the benefits of COVID-19 immunisation until 2024 and urged rich states to end short-sighted vaccine nationalism that is fuelling a vaccine-divide and undermining worldwide recovery.

“Recovery from the pandemic is impossible unless it ends for everyone. New mutating forms of the virus that may emerge in largely unvaccinated populations can pose a threat to all, including those previously vaccinated,” said the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council in a statement issued in Geneva.

Recovery requires all states to realise their duty to cooperate in global solidarity to ensure equitable access to the vaccines worldwide without discrimination, the experts said.

They said the challenges of addressing the pandemic initially appeared to bring people and nations together in the face of an unknown disease.

“The collective global efforts of scientists, states and civil society organisations to find a vaccine had the promising signs of a new era of cooperation and equality, where nobody would in fact be left behind. However, as things stand, the supply of vaccines casts a long shadow on equitable access to the scientific achievement of several vaccines being produced,” the statement said.

Division, inequality, national and regional self-interest currently dictate access to COVID-19 vaccines, they said. “According to WHO, almost 95 percent of vaccines produced thus far have gone to 10 wealthy countries. This is an abject failure of the duty to cooperate inherent in the right to development, which all human persons and peoples enjoy.”

While the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Facility (COVAX) led by the World Health Organisation is an important step towards globally coordinated vaccine distribution, states are not engaging with it sufficiently.

The experts strongly urge WTO members to positively consider necessary waivers to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) during the March 2021 TRIPS Council meetings, in a manner conducive to the right to development for everyone.

The WTO’s sustainable development objective cannot be realised by undermining the ability of countries to interpret the TRIPS Agreement in a way supportive of their development needs and ways to deal with public health crisis, the experts said.

“The TRIPS Agreement can and should facilitate the protection of public health on a global scale, promote self-sufficiency of all members, and not be a barrier to accessibility of COVID-19-related medicines and vaccines,” the statement said.

COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge which can only be effectively addressed through concerted global action. Lives cannot be saved and the vulnerable cannot be protected by mere rhetoric, without concrete commitment to universal and equitable vaccine access, the experts said.

“We urge states to engage in meaningful international cooperation, as an obligation not an option, in order to avoid delaying distributions to the vulnerable population around the world, and not leave them further behind.”