Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

vaccine nationalism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Vaccine nationalism and issues with it

Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses in the multilateralism which is best exemplified by the race among countries for getting access to the vaccine.

Business out of pandemic

  • It is a crime against humanity to make a profit during any human tragedy.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is also a human tragedy and needs global solidarity.
  • However, in a liberalised economy, there is a shocking silence in the global market trying to do business out of human suffering
  • This is where organisations of the United Nations and global networks for people should come together in one voice.
  • WHO’s idea of a “voluntary pool to collect patent rights, regulatory test data for developing COVID-19 therapies, vaccines, and diagnostics” was met with criticism.

How to ensure equitable access to vaccine

  • The advance purchase agreements that some countries have negotiated with pharmaceutical companies exemplify the rich grabbing everything first trends.
  • Such vaccine nationalism undermines equitable access to vaccines. 
  • There has to be prioritisation for high-risk groups in all countries.
  • That framework has to be accepted by the global community without dispute.
  • In this, the COVAX partnership is a mechanism for ensuring that.
  • GAVI, or the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, was in existence during the pre-COVID-19 period to ensure the pooled procurement and equitable supply of life-saving vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
  • It has been roped in for the COVID-19 vaccine too.

Role of the governments

  • World Health Organization Director-General exhorted member countries to treat COVID-19 technologies as a “public good”.
  • If it is a public good, governments must step in to regulate its development, innovation, manufacture, sale, and supply ultimately to the public.
  • If such an idealistic outcome does not materialise based on basic human rights then some regulation mandated by the UN General Assembly must be thought of.
  • Through the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Doha Ministerial Conference declaration 2001, the WTO made provisions for compulsory licensing. 

Consider the question “Vaccine nationalism has consequences for cooperation on the global problem. Examine the issue of vaccine nationalism and suggest ways to ensure equitable distribution”

Way forward

  • Compulsory licensing is an extreme step available with India if rich countries go for advance purchase and hoarding of a COVID-19 vaccine produced in India by multinational pharma companies and deny India’s supply needs.
  • COVID-19 vaccine candidates are still in Phase 3 trials; the compulsory licence clause cannot be applied.
  • So, coercion to issue “voluntary licensing” to subsidiary companies in many developing countries such as India, Egypt, Thailand and Brazil by the patent holder is another option.
  • India and South Africa jointly sent out a communication, to the IPR Council of the WTO for a waiver of the protection of copyright, design, trademarks and patent on COVID-19 related technologies including vaccines.
  • If this is decided favourably as a special case considering the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, it will set a precedent.
  • Global campaigns through the media and civil society organisations can garner enough momentum to exert pressure on TRIPS.


Having nothing less than vaccines and life-saving medicines being treated as a public good must definitely be the long-term goal.

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