Each year, on April 7th, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes World Health Day by bringing international attention to a particular global health theme, with past topics spanning mental health, maternal and child health, infectious disease, chronic conditions and healthcare delivery. This year, the WHO has chosen to focus on the theme of “building a fairer, healthier world” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It makes sense that this year’s theme is centered around issues that have been brought to light in the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak, which has redefined life as we know it over the past year. Yet, while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with unprecedented global health challenges, it has also given rise to unprecedented levels of collaboration, innovation and scientific progress. Less than a year after the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, we have seen the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, with others in the pipeline. The response to the pandemic has been one of the most remarkable and efficient scientific achievements the world has ever seen.
This innovation would not have been possible with the large-scale collaboration we’ve witnessed from stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem and beyond. Robust intellectual property (IP) systems have been at the heart of the partnerships responsible for the lifesaving vaccines and innovations that have helped to combat the spread of COVID. In short, strong IP systems are what have enabled the critical cross-sector collaborations that have made the discovery, development, manufacturing and distribution of breakthrough COVID vaccines possible.
As viable vaccines continue to make their way to markets, IP rights will prove to be a critical tool for enabling broad-reaching distribution of vaccines, leading to more equitable access and better health outcomes for people all over the world.
At every stage of these innovation processes, IP has played a crucial role—from providing a scientific bedrock upon which innovators developed these new vaccines, to promoting information sharing between individuals and companies, to enabling licensing that gives vaccine developers the ability to collaborate externally around manufacturing. Similarly, as viable vaccines continue to make their way to markets, IP rights will prove to be a critical tool for enabling broad-reaching distribution of vaccines, leading to more equitable access and better health outcomes for people all over the world.
The COVAX collaboration—which aims to equitably distribute 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021—is a perfect example of the power of IP-enabled partnerships. Because of robust IP rights, the biopharmaceutical sector, government organizations, scientists and philanthropists were able to effectively enter into major partnerships to speed vaccine production and begin to supply COVAX with urgently needed doses. IP has also incentivized and fostered innovation that helps solve tricky supply chain and distribution challenges that come with transporting and delivering vaccines to communities around the world, like the cutting-edge temperature controlled and GPS-enabled shipping containers that Pfizer developed to deliver their vaccines globally.
In the quest to end the global health crisis that has upended the lives of communities in every corner of the globe one thing is certain: without full, equitable global access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, we cannot beat this pandemic. Progress against the coronavirus requires an all-hands-on-deck approach and breakthrough innovative solutions that are truly accessible. We must do more to make sure the vaccine reaches everyone, whether they live in a rich or poor country.
Despite some misleading claims from IP critics, robust IP systems are what drive and make the collaboration and innovation necessary to ensure vaccines and treatments are available to people globally, and will ultimately change the trajectory of this pandemic, possible. On World Health Day, it’s critical that leaders and stakeholders not lose sight of this reality, if they truly want to build a future that is more equitable and healthier for all.