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Treaties, law should make vaccines accessible to all

Treaties, law should make vaccines accessible to all

By Siphokazi Kayana - 24 February 2021 - 07:16

Covid-19 has certainly taken its toll around the world. SA has lost close to 50,000 people to the disease, while our hospitals have struggled to cope with thousands needing urgent medical care.

Covid-19 has certainly taken its toll around the world. SA has lost close to 50,000 people to the disease, while our hospitals have struggled to cope with thousands needing urgent medical care.
In addition to the loss of loved ones is the awful economic impact, with a huge loss of jobs, dwindling incomes, and contraction of the economy.


When news reached us late last year about vaccinations that could potentially bring an end to the crisis, a sense of euphoria prevailed, if only briefly. As things progressed, however, South Africans felt disillusionment at the news that our country was not going to embark on a vaccination programme soon, with much criticism directed at the government and its seeming inertia to secure much-needed vaccinations for all our people.


THE WEALTHIER NATIONS HAVE CREATED ANOTHER DIVISION BETWEEN DEVELOPED AND DEVELOPING NATIONS. WITH ACCESS A GREAT DEAL MORE ABOUT FUNDS, THESE COUNTRIES EFFECTIVELY BOUGHT THE WORLD’S STOCK OF VACCINES, LEAVING AT LEAST HALF THE GLOBE UNABLE TO ACCESS THESE LIFE-SAVING MEASURES. AS A RESULT, SA FINDS ITSELF WAY DOWN THE LIST OF COUNTRIES TO ACCESS VACCINES. 

 

IN ADDITION, THERE ARE CONCERNS ABOUT AFFORDABILITY IF WE HAVE TO PURCHASE VACCINES FROM INTERNATIONAL PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES. IT IS IRONIC THAT THOSE STATES WITH THE LEAST FINANCIAL MEANS TO PURCHASE MILLIONS OF DOSES WILL END UP PAYING THE HIGHEST PRICES. 


But, while SA may not have sufficient funds to pay for 60 million vaccines, we certainly do have the infrastructure and knowledge to produce vaccines ourselves. The country took leaps and bounds in drug manufacturing when HIV/Aids was rampant, and that capacity puts us in line with developed nations as regards the ability to manufacture vaccines. 
The one element missing is the knowledge of their make-up as well as the licensing. SA and other emerging states with similar manufacturing capacity would need to obtain licensing from owners of the intellectual property (IP) of the vaccines, so we could start producing them for our own needs quickly.


Hindering this is the international agreement that protects intellectual property, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) – between all member nations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Protecting the IP certain international pharmaceutical companies hold for having developed Covid-19 vaccines, Trips effectively blocks the sharing of information about how they can be manufactured.  


While Trips is a much-needed measure to protect IP rights – and ensure that the originator is able to reap the financial rewards – circumstances have at times dictated there may be a valid and pressing need to depart from it. This is confirmed by the Doha Declaration on the Trips Agreement and Public Health. The declaration allows for a deviation where people need access to essential medication. The governments involved confirmed that: "The Trips Agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health...and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”
There is thus a strong argument to be made in law for using mechanisms within Trips to allow for deviations where vaccines to prevent infection from Covid-19 are concerned. The SA government has joined forces with its counterpart in India to apply to the Trips committee for this departure, but their efforts have thus far not been successful. 


Civil society should apply pressure on other governments to do what is not only right, but also necessary if the world is to emerge from the pandemic. Unless the allowance under Trips is permitted, the consequence will be a divided world with the most severe impact being on the global south population. And, as long as many people remain unvaccinated, the world will not rid itself of Covid-19, no matter the rollout of vaccines in particular countries.
 

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Treaties, law should make vaccines accessible to all
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Portrait of Siphokazi Kayana
Siphokazi Kayana
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Johannesburg