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The covid-19 vaccine patent waiver: a crucial step towards a “people’s vaccine”

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: (Published 17 May 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n1249

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  1. Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of epidemiology1,
  2. Gavin Yamey, professor of global health and public policy2
  1. 1Public Health Modeling Unit and Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA
  2. 2Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
  1. gregg.gonsalves{at}

An intellectual property waiver alone will not solve the covid-19 vaccine access challenge, other steps will be needed

In rich nations that have plentiful doses of covid-19 vaccines, including the UK and the US, the public is feeling optimistic that life will return to normal soon, just as it has in Israel, where 56% of the population is fully vaccinated. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, calls this “vaccine euphoria,” a sense among those in rich nations that vaccines have ended the pandemic.

But if the vaccine euphoric nations were to turn their gaze towards the surges in cases and deaths in Brazil, India, Iran, and Nepal, a dose of reality would set in. Worldwide, the number of weekly cases has been steadily rising for 10 weeks and is at its highest ever level. The pandemic is raging out of control.

It did not have to be this way. We have multiple safe, highly efficacious vaccines that we should be deploying worldwide to end the pandemic. And yet only 0.3% of total doses have gone to low income countries, a grotesque inequity that Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, calls “vaccine apartheid.”12

A global pooled solidarity mechanism called Covax was established last year by three agencies: WHO; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Covax aimed to vaccinate all high risk people and health workers in every single nation, rich and poor equally, in 2021—about one fifth of the planet’s population.

Unfortunately, around three dozen rich nations bypassed this mechanism and went it alone in a vaccine grab, …

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