The pandemic continues to affect all corners of the world, with new waves and variants driving the need for continued innovation. As world leaders representing 34 nations meet for the 150th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board, they can set a trajectory for meaningful progress by focusing on strengthening health systems in the developing world and resisting calls by some countries to push pre-existing political agendas, such as weakening global intellectual property (IP) protections.
A key element of ending the pandemic involves broad access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapies. There are practical strategies to advance equity – including increasing dose sharing, optimizing production, eliminating trade barriers, improving country readiness and continuing to innovate. As we have seen with the spread of the omicron variant, the issue has not been about vaccine and therapeutic supply. Rather, the barriers to broader vaccination are much more complex, with poor infrastructure, government mistrust and vaccine hesitancy all playing a role.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen at multilateral meetings since the pandemic began, some nations continue to call to waive IP rights on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies as an attempt to deliver this innovation to more people. Focusing on IP waivers as a potential solution to the pandemic would be completely misguided. We’ve watched the IP ecosystem facilitate the development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines and therapies at a record pace. Robust, cross-border voluntary partnerships are helping to meet global demand. It’s truly time to move on from the IP waiver conversation and instead focus on unpacking and addressing the real barriers. Indeed, the WHO should focus on areas where the organization has a comparative advantage, such as strengthening health systems in the developing world.
Each of the 34 members of the WHO Executive Board should acknowledge and support the role of innovation and make sure the discussion focuses on practical solutions to vaccine equity. Weakening the IP ecosystem will only hamper the amazing progress to date to deliver COVID-19 innovation. The future course of the COVID-19 pandemic hangs in the balance.
The WHO Executive Board can set a trajectory for meaningful progress by focusing on strengthening health systems in the developing world and resisting calls by some countries to push pre-existing political agendas, such as weakening global intellectual property protections.