Brazil's Pioneering Solution to Vaccine Shortages
A proposal for the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual-property rights on pandemic-related pharmaceuticals is still languishing, owing to opposition from rich countries whose companies are reaping monopoly profits. Fortunately, a public-health bill in Brazil points the way to a promising bottom-up solution.
NEW YORK – The World Trade Organization was supposed to meet this week to consider a proposal that has been languishing for the past year: a temporary waiver of pharmaceutical intellectual property during the pandemic to allow poor countries to make many of the same tests, treatments, and vaccines that rich countries have had throughout the pandemic. Yet, in a cruel reminder of the urgency of the problem, the WTO meeting was postponed, owing to the emergence of the Omicron variant, detected by scientists in South Africa (though precisely where it originated remains unclear ).
There is near-unanimous agreement that vaccinating the entire world is the only way to end the pandemic. The higher the vaccination rate, the fewer chances the virus will have to acquire dangerous mutations. Before quickly becoming the leading global variant, Delta was first detected in India, where under 3% of the population had been vaccinated. Today, Africa has the world’s lowest vaccination rates, with only 7% of Africans having been fully vaccinated.
There is a simple reason why poorer countries don’t have enough vaccines: there aren’t enough doses to go around. Donations haven’t solved the problem, because no country has surplus vaccines in the multiple billions that are needed. Philanthropy, too, has fallen short. The COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility, an international consortium that promised to send two billion vaccine doses to poor countries by the end of 2021, has shipped only 25% of that amount.