mazzucato31_FRANCOIS LO PRESTIAFP via Getty Images_covidvaccine Francois Lo Presti/AFP via Getty Images

Health Innovation for All

In addition to prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic and threatening the economic recovery, the new Omicron variant is a reminder that our system for managing global health emergencies remains woefully inadequate. Until we can ensure rapid production and equal availability of vaccines globally, the coronavirus will remain in charge.

LONDON – Despite multiple technological breakthroughs in the fight to control COVID-19, twice as many people died from it in 2021 compared to 2020. The Omicron variant is a stark reminder that effective vaccines are merely the first step toward ending the pandemic. Until we establish a process to manufacture vaccines at scale and distribute them where they are needed, we will lack the collective capacity to curb this or any future pandemic.

The shameful inequity in global vaccine distribution shows that we cannot rely on monopolies, commercial imperatives, and charitable efforts alone if we are to achieve the World Health Organization’s goal of “Health for All.” As the WHO’s Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response concludes, we need a globally coordinated, end-to-end innovation system in which intellectual property (IP) rules and fiscal policies are designed to support collaboration between the public and private sectors. The quantity and quality of financing must be restructured around the overriding goal of delivering essential health technologies as a global common good.

Value in health innovation is created by many participants, including research institutions, corporations, governments, international organizations, philanthropies, scientists, and trial participants. The fruits of this collective labor should not be exclusively in the hands of pharmaceutical companies whose main priority is to maximize shareholder returns. This extractive model has prolonged the pandemic and undermined economic recovery.

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