Although the G7 announcement of a donation of 1 billion doses was welcome news, the commitment falls far short of that required by poor countries.
For some experts, waiving the patents on Covid-19 vaccines could tackle the severe inequality in global distribution.
According to information from Our World in Data, only 2.7% of the population in low-income countries have received at least one dose to date.
On October 14, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said formal negotiations on a temporary exemption of intellectual property rules to boost access to vaccines were “stuck.”
However, Okonjo-Iweala was optimistic. She said informal talks were intensifying, although there were no results as yet.
The proposal of an exemption on intellectual property has been defended by the scientific community, which argues that vaccine manufacturers have to a large extent been dependent on public funding.
Health Policy Watch estimates that, together, companies holding intellectual property rights are estimated to have benefited from government funding of around 110 billion dollars.
In December 2020, Forbes published a story that the Moderna vaccine alone was funded almost exclusively by the U.S. government.
In May of this year, the United States surprised the world by announcing its intention to support the WTO proposal and said that it would temporarily waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines. However, five months later, this has not been achieved.
For the moment, Okonjo-Iweala said she believed WTO members could “find a pragmatic compromise on the intellectual property waiver” that would ensure equitable access to vaccines, while preserving incentives for research and innovation.
It is important to remember that although the recent declaration of G7 leaders to donate 1 billion vaccine doses over the next year was welcome news, the donation falls far short of the more than 11 billion doses the World Health Organization estimates are required.
According to PLOS Journals, while high-income countries contributed to the formation and funding of COVAX and the COVAX Facility responsible for equitable global access, “bilateral contracts with the pharmaceutical companies have monopolized most of the available vaccines.”
One example given by the paper is the case of the Indian vaccine manufacturers, which had to redirect their previously committed vaccine supplies to address the massive surge of Covid-19 cases in India during the second quarter of 2021.