[Ip-health] Human Rights Watch: Rights, Transparency Central for Covid-19 Vaccines

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Oct 29 22:55:39 PDT 2020


October 29, 2020 4:00AM EDT

Available In


Rights, Transparency Central for Covid-19 Vaccines

(New York) – Governments should maximize Covid-19 vaccine access and
affordability for people worldwide, and those funding vaccines with public
money should be transparent about the terms and conditions attached, Human
Rights Watch said in a report released today. Governments should support
India and South Africa’s proposal to waive some aspects of global
intellectual property (IP) rules to enable large-scale manufacturing and
make vaccines affordable for all.

The 77-page report, “‘Whoever Finds the Vaccine Must Share It’:
Strengthening Human Rights and Transparency around Covid-19 Vaccines,”
examines three significant barriers to universal and equitable access to
any vaccine that is found to be safe and effective – transparency, supply,
and pricing. Human Rights Watch spells out governments’ human rights
obligation to ensure that the scientific benefits of the research they fund
with public money are shared as widely as possible to protect people’s
lives, health, and livelihoods. Human Rights Watch also argues that using
public money without reporting its terms and conditions undermines the
human rights principles of transparency and accountability. Governments
should take steps to maximize the availability and affordability of safe
and effective vaccines and minimize debt for low- and middle-income

October 29, 2020

“Whoever Finds the Vaccine Must Share It”

Strengthening Human Rights and Transparency Around Covid-19 Vaccines

Download the full report in English

“Governments should urgently band together, be transparent, and cooperate
to share the benefits of the scientific research they fund to help
humanity,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior business and human rights counsel at
Human Rights Watch and a co-author of the report. “More than a million
people have died and another million are projected to die by the end of the
year. Governments should use their funding and regulatory powers to ensure
that corporate profit doesn’t determine who can get vaccines.”

Universal and equitable access to a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine is
critical to preventing severe illness and death while protecting
livelihoods, getting children back to school, and enabling economic
recovery. Like other infectious diseases, Covid-19 can spread rapidly
across borders. Future vaccines may not provide lasting immunity,
potentially leaving countries vulnerable to seasonal cycles or waves of
infection. The International Monetary Fund has said that strong
international cooperation on Covid-19 vaccines could speed up global
economic recovery and add US$9 trillion to global income by 2025. A growing
movement of advocates, including Covid-19 survivors and loved ones of those
who died, are calling for a “people’s vaccine.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed experts on access to medicines, IP, and
human rights, and analyzed international human rights law, national laws
and policies, and a vast array of publicly available documents and
secondary sources. The report draws on over six months of global reporting
on the pandemic’s impacts on different populations, including health

Interview: Health, Not Wealth, Should Determine Access to a Covid-19 Vaccine

Birgit Schwarz talks to Human Rights Watch senior counsel for business and
human rights, Aruna Kashyap, and senior researcher on children’s rights,
Margaret Wurth, about the need for more transparency and the equitable
allocation of vaccines on the basis of health needs, not money.

“I don’t even want to think when the actual poor people in need will get
vaccines,” a nurse in a ward for Covid-19 patients in a government hospital
in Karachi, Pakistan, told Human Rights Watch. “It will be hospital admin,
doctors, politicians first, and everyone else later, if there’s any left.”

Governments are using public money to fund Covid-19 vaccines on an
unprecedented scale. By mid-September, the Australia-based think tank
Policy Cures Research (PCR) estimated that governments had given over US$19
billion for Covid-19 vaccine research, development, manufacturing, and
distribution. Top government agencies funding vaccines were from the US,
Germany, the UK, and Norway, and the European Commission. On October 13,
the World Bank approved $12 billion in financing for Covid-19 testing,
treatments, and vaccines.

A near-total lack of transparency around government funding and the terms
has made it arduously difficult to understand the implications for global
vaccine access. Some governments are directly negotiating opaque bilateral
deals with pharmaceutical companies or other entities to reserve future
vaccine doses, mostly for their exclusive use. In September 2020, Oxfam
International reported that high-income countries have already reserved 51
percent of the doses of several leading vaccine candidates, even though
those countries represent only 13 percent of the world’s population.

These deals undermine universal and equitable global access to any vaccine
found to be safe and effective, especially for low- and middle-income
countries. Governments using public money for Covid-19 vaccines are
accountable to the public, and should publish what they have funded, and
their terms, Human Rights Watch said.

Concerns around vaccine shortages also remain unaddressed. The global
demand for any safe and effective vaccine is projected to far exceed
supply. As of October 19, ten vaccine candidates were in the final phase of
clinical trials. Those that prove to be safe and effective should be
manufactured on as large a scale as possible to make them widely available.

Governments should take all measures, including using their funding and
regulatory powers to require vaccine developers to transfer technology and
share the IP, data, and know-how behind their innovations through open,
non-exclusive licensing. This is especially important because vaccine
manufacturing expertise or know-how are limited to a handful of countries.

Most governments, especially those from high-income countries, have
ignored, denied, or played down the IP barriers to scaling up
manufacturing, even though a growing number of low- and middle-income
governments, IP lawyers, and lawsuits have drawn attention to these

Governments should support India and South Africa’s proposal of a waiver
for key IP rules under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Governments should use their
regulatory powers to require companies to share IP rights through open and
non-exclusive licensing.

The Costa Rican government in May spearheaded a call to action with the
World Health Organization to create the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool
(C-TAP) – a common shared pool of rights to technologies, data, and
know-how that everyone around the world could use to manufacture any
medical products needed to tackle Covid-19, including vaccines. All
governments should join the initiative and take urgent steps to implement
it. Governments should also urgently cooperate to map out vaccine
manufacturing capacity.

Vaccine pricing could also be a significant barrier to universal and
equitable vaccine access. In many places, vaccines will only be accessible
and affordable for all if they are free. Governments should ensure public
money is used for public benefit, and not for private profits, and work to
minimize debt for low- and middle-income countries. They should require
companies to adopt transparent pricing verified by third party audits,
Human Rights Watch said.

Some governments are funding the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine
procurement mechanism to assist low- and middle-income countries to secure
vaccines. The facility has yet to publish the contracts it has signed with
companies. Participating governments should ensure that the facility’s
decisions are aligned with governments’ human rights obligations and the
principles of the WHO’s C-TAP.

“You can’t fight a global pandemic by allowing publicly funded vaccines to
go to the highest bidder, at whatever price pharmaceutical companies set,”
said Margaret Wurth, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights
Watch and a co-author of the report. “When a safe and effective vaccine is
found, it should be available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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