Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Corona Vaccine for All: A Case for Universal Access


The coronavirus pandemic has a devastating impact across the globe. No country has left unhurt from the deadly virus. All the efforts to contain the virus have not yielded much. At present the only hope now lies in the vaccines. But it is evident that the world is not able to supply enough vaccines. Even India, the biggest supplier of vaccines, is unable to meet the domestic demand. Many low income countries have not been able to vaccinate even one percent of their total population. In such conditions, the universal access to vaccines can be the ray of hope.
It has been more than 18 months since 31st December 2019 when officially the first case of the coronavirus infection was detected in Wuhan [1] which is said to have spread from Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China [2]. However there are several claims which report that the first case was detected in Wuhan in the month November 2019 [3]. On 30th June 2021, more than 18 crores individuals have been infected by the coronavirus across the globe and more than 40 lakh individuals have also succumbed to this deadly virus [4]. These are the reported and official numbers relating to the coronavirus pandemic. It is quite possible that the data relating to lakhs of people might haven’t been reported. Either these people didn’t have access to testing facilities or didn’t undergo any testing due to horrifying stories relating to the coronavirus broadcasted by media outlets. Across the world, there hasn’t been transparency in reporting the statistics. So the numbers relating to coronavirus might be far higher than the reported numbers.
The virus has hit people from all possible corners. Lakhs of people are left with no family. Thousands of children have become orphans. Crores of people across the globe have lost their livelihoods and have been forced into the vicious circle of poverty and are struggling for a square meal a day! The world economy is left in lurch with no light at the end of the tunnel as there lay only uncertainties ahead. All this is happening when the governments, non-governmental organizations, international bodies as well as the citizens across the world have been trying their best to provide the maximum support to everyone in need in the times of pandemic! At this point of time when more than 300 crores of doses of the vaccines have been administered to people across the globe [5]; everyday more than 3.5 lakhs of individuals are getting infected with the virus and more than 7 thousands individuals are giving their life to this undying virus [6].
India has a similar story as rest of the world. Particularly the state of affairs in India during the second wave has been really heart-breaking as the whole healthcare system completely collapsed to even provide required medicines leaving apart hospitalization, oxygen support and other facilities. All this happened in India when it had almost won the battle against the deadly virus! Countries like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia etc. are forced to share similar experiences as India as these countries are reporting very high numbers of new infections. It should be noted that in the first wave, the whole of Europe, the United States and other countries (developed, emerging and under-developed) have witnessed similar horrifying stories. At that point of time crematoriums across the globe were unable to provide proper last rites to the people! 

Considering the high infectious nature and the widespread impacts of the virus on the world [7] as well as its ability to change its inherent nature (different variants), there remains no doubt that the fate of humanity is at risk at large. As a result of the horrifying impacts of the Coronavirus, the whole world is in distress to varying degrees and in this time of desperation there is no hope other than the vaccines for the coronavirus! Medical experts along with the World Health Organizations are anonymous for some time that only vaccines can help humanity at this point of time in history as no medicine can provide a shield against the coronavirus for sure (prescription has been changing in every few weeks which created chaos across the world)! 

In this time of crises, scientists in public and private sectors across different countries in the world have worked hard to develop dozens of vaccines for the coronavirus in a very short span of time. However, dozens of pharmaceutical companies are working day and night to manufacture enough doses of the vaccines but the demand for the vaccines surpasses the supply. Across the world till now 19 vaccines have been approved for use and 7 vaccines are in the WHO’s Emergency Use List [8]. Even India, the biggest supplier of vaccines in the world, is unable to supply enough vaccines for its people in the last few weeks [9]. Dozens of countries hardly have access to the vaccines even after a lot of the efforts of the WHO and so called vaccine diplomacy. In low income countries, only around 1 percent of people have been administered vaccine doses [5]. 

Apart from the problem of vaccine availability, many other issues have cropped up across the world in the vaccination drive which is creating a lot of problems. In many countries there are pre-conceived notions against the safety of the vaccines which have been further fuelled by the rumour mongers. In India, the vaccine drive witnessed lukewarm response from the citizens until the Indian Prime Minister himself didn’t take the first dose of vaccine. To encourage people, the government is forced to run vaccine promotion programs through different mediums. Similar prejudices regarding vaccines are there in many other countries as well. The way many countries are vaccinating their people, it seems that those countries don’t have any vaccination strategy at all. In India when there is a need to ensure that people are vaccinated as soon as possible; India fails to produce enough vaccines. In five months, India has been able to administer one dose of vaccine to only around 35 crores people which accounts for around 20 percent of the total population and less than 5 percent of people have received two doses [6]! Till now countries like Canada and the United Kingdom have vaccinated more than 65 percent of their total population. Similarly, the US, France, Germany, Spain, UAE and Italy etc. countries have vaccinated more than 50 percent of their population. However the low population load of these countries is the reason for the high percentage because India has vaccinated the highest numbers of people across the world. 

The horrifying and grim situation across the world caused by the coronavirus pandemic demands for the universal access to the coronavirus vaccines at the lowest possible or no costs to bring life back to normal! This would be possible only when these vaccines are available in abundance and everyone can have easy access. At this point of time in history, all the stakeholders in the world need to understand that the money spent on vaccines is not expenditure but investment in the people and humanity and the world must act in tandem and united to win this battle against the coronavirus. 

From the experiences till now, it can be said with certainty that the current manufacturing capacity for the vaccines in the whole world is not enough. It will take years before the whole world is fully vaccinated and it is a risk which the world cannot afford at all. To meet this mammoth goal of vaccinating the whole world, the required technology and knowledge relating to vaccines must be transferred to all vaccine manufacturers (existing and probable) in the world at no cost or the lowest possible cost and this would be possible only if all the stakeholders agree to bear the cost leaving aside the issue of intellectual property rights and patents for time being. As per WTO TRIPS, the intellectual property rights as well as the patent rights must be protected by the signatory nation states by enacting adequate laws [10]. For this to become a reality, the signatory countries unanimously must agree to enact or amend the required laws in their respective countries so that there remains no scope for conflict. 

It is a well-known fact that the process of the vaccine research and development is very costly and the companies involved in this process invest huge sums of money and these companies need to recover that cost either by selling the vaccines to the end user or giving manufacturing rights to other companies for royalty. This industry norm makes it a prohibitive practice for the companies to manufacture and distribute vaccines. However, at this point of the time, the governments across the world and international bodies can create an emergency regime and a set of terms and conditions for compensating the cost plus a nominal margin for the universal access to the required technology and knowledge. Once this is agreed upon, the knowledge and technology should be transferred to the nations rather than companies which would further distribute the knowledge and technology to all the eligible firms without discrimination. The related costs should be borne by the nation states and international bodies ensuring that this process neither overburdens financially nor ignores the needs of the poor nations. This process to some extent can ensure that the interests of the research as well as manufacturing entities are not compromised. Along with this, it should be ensured that no manufacturing company could exploit the end consumers. Apart from this, the governments also have to centrally procure the vaccines from all the manufacturers so that there remains no pricing disparity in the different markets in the same country. 

It is quite possible that many developed nations may be averse to this idea as this will result in losses for many companies operating from those countries. So nation states may adapt to the above discussed idea if there is availability of knowledge and technology. However the pharmaceutical companies will also oppose this. Apart from this, the idea of free access to IPR relating to coronavirus vaccines may also start an unhealthy trend as and when there is any health crisis in the world or country. But it is a risk worth taking. 

In many countries when there is risk of another wave of infections and India is also facing the risk of the third wave, there is need for quick vaccination to people so that the possibility of new waves of infections can be brought down and the economic activities in the world get back to normal. So it would be better that the idea of free access to IPR is not only advocated but implemented. However in these tough times, there is a favourable study which suggests that one dose of vaccine would be enough to those who had been infected with COVID19 as the second dose does not increase the resistance power much [11]. This information can be used to deal with the rumours that there is no need for vaccines to those who had been infected previously. Also only one dose to previously infected people will bring down the load on the system.


  • [1] WHO. (2021, June 30). Timeline: WHO's COVID-19 response. Retrieved from WHO: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/interactive-timeline 
  • [2] BBC. (2021, May 27). Covid origin: Why the Wuhan lab-leak theory is being taken seriously. Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57268111 
  • [3] Bryner, J. (2020, March 14). 1st known case of coronavirus traced back to November in China. Retrieved from Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/first-case-coronavirus-found.html 
  • [4] Worldometer. (2021, July 1). COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved from Worldometer: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/ 
  • [5] OWD. (2021, July 1). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations. Retrieved from Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations 
  • [6] Covid19india. (2021, July 1). Covid19india. Retrieved from Covid19india: https://www.covid19india.org/ 
  • [7] Upadhyay, R. K. (2020, 11 March). Coronavirus, Economy and A Fear Frenzy Behaviour . Retrieved from The Deliberation: https://www.deliberation.in/2020/03/coronavirus-economy-and-fear-frenzy.html 
  • [8] Unicef. (2021, July 1). COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard . Retrieved from UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard 
  • [9] The Telegraph. (2021, July 1). Covid: Several states face vaccine shortage following Centre blitz. Retrieved from The Telegraph: https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/coronavirus-outbreak-several-states-face-vaccine-shortage-following-centre-blitz/cid/1820747 
  • [10] WTO. (2021, July 1). TRIPS — Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Retrieved from WTO: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/trips_e.htm 
  • [11] Dolgin, E. (2021, June 25). Is one vaccine dose enough if you’ve had COVID? What the science says. Retrieved from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01609-4
Assistant Professor
Sri Aurobindo College (Evening)
University of Delhi

Article History:-

Online Submission: 1st July 2021
Peer Review Comment: 2nd July 2021
Revised Submission: 4th July 2021
Acceptance of Article: 5th July 2021
Published Online: 6th July 2021

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