Global Public Health
Volume 16, Issue 8-9 (2021)
Global justice and the COVID-19 vaccine: Limitations of the public goods framework
Published online: 25 Mar 2021
As vaccines for COVID-19 were first being approved for use, there were widespread calls for it to be assigned a ‘global public good’. However, allocating the COVID-19 vaccine globally poses a novel challenge of redistribution, one that cannot be effectively undertaken using current mechanisms for the dispensation of aid. An examination of the origins and implicit logic of global public goods theory shows that it would not be effective as a framework in this context. I argue that while it is a useful rhetorical tool to underscore the need for global access, it fails to account for concerns arising out of structural inequities between countries in the Global South and North. In addition to being ill-defined, the phrase encodes a neoliberal logic – one that prioritises the protection of private capital over democratic claims of redistribution and social justice. To ensure global access, our attention must be focussed instead on explicitly accounting for inequities, securing access for countries in the Global South and addressing the norm-setting powers of pharmaceutical companies.