Humanity today, in all its fragility, is searching for an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19. It is our best hope of putting a stop to this painful global pandemic.
We are calling on Health Ministers at the World Health Assembly to rally behind a people’s vaccine against this disease urgently. Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge. The same applies for all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for COVID-19.
We recognize that many countries and international organizations are making progress towards this goal, cooperating multilaterally on research and development, funding and access, including the welcome $8 billion pledged on 4th May. Thanks to tireless public and private sector efforts and billions of dollars of publicly-financed research, many vaccine candidates are proceeding with unprecedented speed and several have begun clinical trials.
Our world will only be safer once everyone can benefit from the science and access a vaccine - and that is a political challenge. The World Health Assembly must forge a global agreement that ensures rapid universal access to quality-assured vaccines and treatments with need prioritized above the ability to pay.
It is time for Health Ministers to renew the commitments made at the founding of the World Health Organization, where all states agreed to deliver the “the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being”.
Now is not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives, or to leave this massive and moral task to market forces. Access to vaccines and treatments as global public goods are in the interests of all humanity. We cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition and near-sighted nationalism to stand in the way.
We must heed the warning that “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” We must learn the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with disease such as HIV and Ebola. But we must also remember the ground-breaking victories of health movements, including AIDS activists and advocates who fought for access to affordable medicines for all.
Applying both sets of lessons, we call for a global agreement on COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments – implemented under the leadership of the World Health Organization – that:
1. Ensures mandatory worldwide sharing of all COVID-19 related knowledge, data and technologies with a pool of COVID-19 licenses freely available to all countries. Countries should be empowered and enabled to make full use of agreed safeguards and flexibilities in the WTO Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health to protect access to medicines for all.
2. Establishes a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan – that is fully-funded by rich nations – for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products and technologies that guarantees transparent ‘at true cost-prices’ and supplies according to need. Action must start urgently to massively build capacity worldwide to manufacture billions of vaccine doses and to recruit and train the millions of paid and protected health workers needed to deliver them.
3. Guarantees COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, tests and treatments are provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere. Access needs to be prioritized first for front-line workers, the most vulnerable people, and for poor countries with the least capacity to save lives.
In doing so, no one can be left behind. Transparent democratic governance must be set in place by the WHO, inclusive of independent expertise and civil society partners, which is essential to lock-in accountability for this agreement.
In doing so, we also recognize the urgent need to reform and strengthen public health systems worldwide, removing all barriers so that rich and poor alike can access the health care, technologies and medicines they need, free at the point of need.
Only a people’s vaccine – with equality and solidarity at its core – can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again. A bold international agreement cannot wait.