Changes to pandemic response and biomedical innovation ecosystem are needed to guarantee equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics
A cornerstone principle of the coalition is that we, as members, champion equitable and affordable access to effective COVID-19 interventions. In a pandemic, these are public goods.
The coalition’s Social Science Working Group and nearly 50 co-signatories recently shared a Viewpoint on vaccine equity, arguing that a TRIPS waiver is urgently needed to make progress on COVID-19 vaccine equity, as the current inequity poses a major threat to the global COVID-19 response and is among the major social justice issues of our time.
Coalition member and co-founder DNDi has just issued a policy report, ‘Another triumph of science, but defeat for access? Ensuring innovation and equitable access for COVID-19 treatments, other infectious diseases, and future pandemics’.
The report urges the international community to learn the early lessons – and avoid repeating the mistakes – of the past year when it comes to innovation of and access to COVID-19 therapeutics, a deeply neglected area within the COVID-19 response. It also outlines the ways in which the pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response architecture arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic must be re-oriented to enable a more effective end-to-end biomedical innovation ecosystem that ensures the benefits of scientific progress are equitably shared and considered global public goods, available to all.
Recommended actions in response to COVID-19 include:
- Increase political attention to and financing of R&D for COVID-19 therapeutics to identify treatment options for all stages of COVID-19, including early treatment interventions – in particular, embracing support and coordination for open drug discovery and development of novel antivirals, host-targeted interventions, and repurposed compounds and robust testing of these options in comparable adaptive platform trials.
- Transform governance structures of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) to ensure equal representation from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); make sure ACT-A explicitly addresses intellectual property (IP) barriers and improves transparency of development, production, and supply; and support collaboration between ACT-A pillars to enable a ‘test-and-treat’ approach to early treatment.
- Secure specific contractual commitments and enabling policies, such as a temporary waiver on IP, to ensure rapid transfer of technology, large-scale manufacturing, and equitable access to new and existing COVID-19 therapeutics in addition to other health tools.
The report also calls for the reorientation of the pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response architecture to:
- Guarantee sustained political attention to and financing of end-to-end R&D for pandemics and all diseases and products of public health importance, with clear priority given to areas most likely to be neglected by the market.
- Re-imagine global health R&D coordination, collaboration, and financing to support a more distributed, decentralized, and democratic approach to the production of knowledge and innovation.
- Ensure there are globally agreed norms and binding rules governing R&D and equitable access to essential health tools to ensure the benefits of scientific progress are equitably shared and considered global public goods, available to all.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge throughout the world due to inequitable access to vaccines and the continued emergence of variants of concern, responding to the needs of those at highest risk of infection, illness, and death today must be the top priority.
Photo credit: Xavier Vahed-DNDi