We are at a time in history where multilateralism is often denigrated and science is sometimes ignored, while they are what we need most. We live in a totally interconnected and interdependent world and no solution to a global issue can be found in isolation. The responsibility of international organizations, including the OECD, is to advocate for more cooperation and multilateralism and provide evidence that this is the way forward.
Have countries been coordinating their policies on the innovation of R&D, manufacturing and market access? What remains to be done?
International cooperation between scientists and researchers has been strong. Very early during the outbreak, some international clinical trials launched and there has been massive sharing of information (the number of Covid-related scientific articles published is immense). Coordination of building manufacturing capacity and putting in place the needed logistics has been much more limited. As mentioned, most G7 countries engaged in bilateral discussions with the pharmaceutical industry to secure their positions. At the regional level, we do see, however, some interesting initiatives, like the commitments made by the European Commission with the industry on behalf of EU member states. The Gavi Covax facility, an effort to procure vaccines jointly and allocate them equitably at a global level, is being supported by more than 70 high- and middle-income countries. While it represents significant progress, unfortunately, Covax doesn’t go as far as it could. It competes with bilateral supply agreements many of the participant countries, and non-participating countries, signed in parallel. Also, Covax negotiates on behalf of participating countries individual supply agreements with selected pharmaceutical firms; it does not guarantee a market and return on investment for any successful vaccine candidate, like a genuine advance market commitment would.
The biggest concern currently remains ensuring the safety and efficacy of the products that will be brought to market and making them available to citizens. If we fail in ensuring people’s safety, this will foster further mistrust and have lasting consequences for the security and prosperity of our world. Governments therefore need to be much more transparent and upfront with their citizens about how resources are being allocated, how vaccines are being tested and based on what evidence they will receive marketing authorization. They also need to make sure that vaccines will be affordable and address the question of intellectual property, given that development is being almost entirely funded by public money.
Many of the decisions that will determine vaccine availability in countries have already been made, through signing of the various supply agreements. To ensure population access, and effective and efficient allocation of scarce product volumes, countries need to keep working together and devise vaccination strategies that will help stop propagation of the virus as quickly as possible.
Copyright: WANG ZHAO / AFP