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WHO-WTO High-Level Dialogue on Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacture to Promote Equitable Access
WHO-WTO dialogue steps up efforts for increased COVID-19 vaccine production and equitable access
21 July 2021
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the WTO on 21 July hosted a High-Level Dialogue on “Expanding COVID-19 vaccine manufacture to promote equitable access”, with the participation of senior policymakers, heads of multilateral agencies, vaccine manufacturers, development finance institutions, global health initiatives and public health activists.
The event, which was held under the Chatham House Rule, aimed to identify obstacles and propose solutions for increasing vaccine production and closing the wide gap in vaccination rates between rich and poor countries.
Participants described current and projected production volumes as well as plans for new investments in production capacity. They shared experiences about specific supply chain bottlenecks they were encountering, from export restrictions and raw material shortages to onerous regulatory processes, and exchanged ideas on how these might be addressed.
They discussed issues around the transfer of know-how and technology as well as factors influencing their decisions on licensing intellectual property.
While there was broad agreement on the importance of keeping supply chains open and predictable, different perspectives were expressed on the proposed waiver of the WTO’s Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement provisions pertaining to vaccines and other products needed to combat COVID-19.
The discussions also touched upon a wide range of issues where greater international cooperation would be beneficial. For instance, multiple participants noted that uncoordinated national recognition of WHO-approved vaccines could leave many vaccinated people unable to travel to places where their vaccines are not recognised. In this regard, they urged countries to accept all WHO-approved vaccines…
WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the WTO – WHO High Level Dialogue: Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacture To Promote Equitable Access
21 July 2021
My sister Dr Ngozi, dear Mr Tang, Excellencies, members of the private sector, dear colleagues and friends, First of all, I would like to thank you, my sister Ngozi, and your colleagues at WTO for organizing this very important dialogue, and for your strong leadership in addressing the vaccine crisis.
I’m speaking to you from Tokyo, where earlier this morning I had the honour of addressing the International Olympic Committee. I told them that I had come to Tokyo to answer a question that I am often asked: when will the pandemic end? And my answer was simple: it will end when the world chooses to end it, because the solutions are in our hands.
We have all the tools we need: proven public health and social measures; rapid and accurate diagnostics; effective therapeutics including oxygen; and of course, powerful vaccines. And yet as we speak, we are in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths.
The Delta variant is wreaking havoc around the world. Between now and when we finish our discussion today, more than 1500 people will die from COVID-19. How can this be, 19 months into the pandemic, and 7 months since the first vaccines were approved?
Without doubt, the development, approval and rollout of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 less than a year after the first reported cases is a stunning scientific achievement, and a much-needed source of hope for bringing the pandemic under control. And I would like to use this opportunity to thank the leaders of the private sector, the manufacturers who have joined us today. Congratulations for this very historic achievement.
But there remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines. This has created a two-track pandemic: the haves are opening up, while the have-nots are locking down. Over 3.5 billion vaccines have been distributed globally, but more than 75 percent of those have gone to just ten countries. Vaccine inequity is not only a moral failure, it is also epidemiologically and economically self-defeating. Of course, vaccines alone cannot solve the pandemic. Rapid diagnostics and life- saving therapeutics are also vital.
Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with DG Ngozi, my sister, and DG Tang to commit to working together more closely to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. We committed to intensified capacity building and providing robust joint technical assistance to countries on COVID-19 health, intellectual property and trade-related matters. Ngozi and I also are working closely together to advocate for immediate, innovative and sustainable solutions to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines and other technologies.
Our global targets are to vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by September, at least 40% by the end of the year, and 70% by mid-next year. These are the critical milestones we must reach together to end the pandemic. To reach those targets, we need 11 billion doses of vaccine. Urgent dose sharing is vital to fill our current supply gap. But dose sharing is a short-term solution.
We must spare no effort to increase vaccine supply for lower-income countries. We need to dramatically scale up the number of vaccines being produced. This can be done by removing the barriers to scaling up manufacturing, including through technology transfer, freeing up supply chains, and IP waivers.
I want to emphasise that WHO values highly the role of the private sector in the pandemic and in every area of health. The intellectual property system plays a vital role in fostering innovation of new tools to save lives. But this pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that demands unprecedented action. With so many lives on the line, profits and patents must come second.
Of course, we can’t snatch your property. What we’re proposing is for high-income countries to provide incentives to the private sector because you deserve recognition, and we don’t want you to have financial problems because of IP waiver. WHO and our partners have also established a COVAX manufacturing taskforce, to increase supply in the short term, but also to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security.
As part of these efforts, this month, WHO and our COVAX partners announced the first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, to be set up in South Africa. WHO is also calling for expressions of interest to establish technology transfer hubs to assist countries acquire vaccine technology and know-how as rapidly as possible.
We are calling on funders and industry to facilitate voluntary, transparent and non-exclusive licensing of patents, transfer of know-how and data through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP.
WHO has prequalified numerous health technologies including vaccines from manufacturers in middle-income countries. These manufacturers have shown that they can produce according to international standards of quality, safety and efficacy. Through C-TAP, we will continue to provide technical assistance to companies to build capacity, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
There are many diseases for which we lack vaccines, good tests and effective treatments. Not so for COVID-19. We have all the tools we need. That means ending the pandemic is not fundamentally a test of scientific discovery, financial muscle or industrial prowess; it’s a test of character.
Let’s together address the serious challenge of vaccine inequity. Please help us achieve this 70% target of vaccinating the population in all countries. I know we can do it, and I expect a strong support from the private sector to realise the 70% by mid-next year that could help us end the pandemic.
Whatever options we use, the most important is increasing the production capacity significantly so there is enough pie to share, there are enough vaccines to achieve the 70% by mid-next year and open up the world and bring lives and livelihoods to normality…
IFPMA Statement at WTO-WHO High Level Dialogue “Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacture to Promote Equitable Access”
21 July 2021 – Today, as stated by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization, we are on course to produce 11 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of this year, which is sufficient to vaccinate the world’s whole adult population. Now, the issue is how these vaccines are going to be distributed more equitably. This is a problem that has to be addressed in the short term by massive dose sharing.
From the first days of the pandemic, the innovative pharma industry knew that developing and manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines would be a colossal task (Ref: 19 March 2020 – Global Biopharmaceutical Industry Commitment to Address Coronavirus Public Health Crisis included the commitment to increase our manufacturing capabilities and share available capacity to ramp up production once a successful vaccine or treatment is developed).
We are on track to make the impossible happen — ramping manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines up from zero to 11 billion doses. While three or four of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers tried to develop COVID-19 vaccines and did not (yet) make it, others did, producing hundreds of million of safe and highly effective vaccines thanks to collaborations that were established early on in the pandemic. Therefore, despite the glitches, the bumps and the disappointments common to vaccine development, we are on track to meet the 11 billion doses target this year.
But much more needs to be done about the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This is why, early this year, we reached out to CEPI, COVAX and other partners to convene a Summit on supply chain and manufacturing (Ref: 9 March 2021 – Meeting discusses COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing bottlenecks that must be urgently tackled for C19 vaccine output to reach its full potential). All the experts convened at the Summit agreed that the problems in further expanding manufacturing capacity are the bottlenecks in the supply chains, the trade barriers, shortages of raw materials and other ingredients, as well as skilled labor. Pretty much all experts agree that an IP waiver would not tackle any of these challenges.
Let us focus on what really needs to be done. We have outlined five steps to urgently advance COVID-19 vaccine equity, which we launched in May. These steps include: dose sharing, and rich countries are starting to do that; and optimizing production further, which means building on the massive amount of collaboration and technology transfers already underway. (More than 200 collaborations have been forged since April 2020 [ref: Airfinity here] and at the meeting the announcement of another industry collaboration with South Africa was acknowledged.)
When it comes to the future, lessons can be learned from the current pandemic. The first lesson is related to COVAX, which is critical for equitable vaccine distribution. Sadly, it was a little bit late in securing funding to secure doses. If we want to be better prepared for the next pandemic, we need to look at having better access to funding for such a multilateral effort upfront. The second lesson is that those who delivered safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines were the innovative vaccine manufacturers, collaborating with developing country vaccine manufacturers. They reached out and signed up with universities, with biotechs and with developing country vaccine manufacturers.
This was not business as usual. Rather than undermining our innovation ecosystem, we need to build on its strengths and acknowledge what allowed us to respond so fast at unprecedented scale.