The Urgency of Universal Access to the Covid-19 Vaccine

Fernando de la Iglesia Viguiristi SJ

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Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has put our health at risk, brought the global economy virtually to a standstill and disrupted our lives in ways we never imagined. The magnitude of the global catastrophe prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to commission an independent panel of experts to assess the situation. The panel was chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.[1]

The concluding report states that the current situation was avoidable. It argues that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was allowed to evolve into a “catastrophic pandemic” that has killed more than 3.4 million people and devastated the world economy. Such a disaster could have been averted with a more prompt global response. Experts have denounced the absence of global political leadership. Some countries “have underestimated and discredited” science, denying the seriousness of the disease, with fatal consequences.

The report calls for significant steps to be taken to end the current tragedy and ensure that it does not happen again. The WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) should bring together vaccine-producing countries, as well as vaccine manufacturers, to try to increase supplies worldwide, and to consider suspending the manufacturers’ intellectual property rights (IPR), as has been requested by lower-income countries. The reports call for a more fully resourced WHO.

The current alert system has proven slow and too subservient to rich countries. A new pathogen with pandemic potential could appear at any time. The WHO should be strengthened so that it can establish a new surveillance system that is based on complete transparency. It should be granted power to publish information on potential pandemics without having to seek the permission of the governments involved. And it should have the freedom to send experts to assess threatening situations in any country at the shortest possible notice.

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