Equal access to health care, and thus equal distribution of vaccines, is of global importance and is a universal human right. However, this is not yet reflected in practise. The main reason for this is the current shortage, which is partly caused by the patent rights on the vaccines, according to Andre den Exter, Associate Professor of Health Law at Erasmus School of Law. Yet, that problem is soluble, ensures Den Exter in Het Financieele Dagblad (FD).
An equal distribution of vaccines amongst the world population is not just in the interest of developing countries, but also of the rest of the world. Just two percent of the current vaccines are going to Africa. At this rate, this continent will not reach a safe vaccination coverage for years. This will not just lead to more casualties in these particular countries, but could also lead to the further spread of new variants of the virus, to which the current vaccines might be no match. This can cause new corona outbreaks around the world.
“Equal access to health care, including vaccines, is a universally recognised human right.”, according to Den Exter. Via aid programs by for instance the World Health Organisation (WHO), developing countries should be able to get their hands on corona vaccines. However, the current shortage does throw a spanner in the works. This shortage is caused by the patent rights, pharmaceutical companies have on their vaccines. This blocks the possibility of increasing the production capacity on the short term.
Luckily, Den Exter sees a possibility for developing countries to work around this patent right: compulsory licences. “This concerns a temporary instrument to overcome the shortage of vaccines. Pharmacists will be forced to waive their patent rights in exchange for compensation. In that way, the technology behind the vaccines becomes publicly available.” Up unto this point, western countries have not been in favour of this measure, but a recent plea by the boss of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could well change that.
Furthermore, the purchasing of vaccines should be revised. Western Countries and the EU have ordered way more vaccines than necessary. Unintentionally, developing countries have been side-lined because of this. If western countries were to donate their surplus to other countries, a rearrangement would occur. “That will not completely get rid of the shortage, but it does contribute to a more just distributions of the available vaccines.”