As Sierra Leone launched its APRM-AU Targeted Review Report on “Health Governance and Covid-19 Response on Thursday, August 12, at the Bintumani Conference Center, Sierra Leone’s Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh made a radical call for a waiver on Intellectual Property on Covid-19 vaccine. The timely and radical call from our esteemed Vice President could not have come at a better time.
While the Covid-19 pandemic is ravaging the world and bringing countries on their knees with some at the brink of collapse, the call for vaccination has grown louder.
However, there’s a somewhat hypocritical aspect to this call for increased vaccination. The Intellectual Property Right to Covid vaccines has been a major impediment to the production and supply of the much-needed medical aid in this time of a global pandemic. There’s a dearth of vaccines for supply and distribution to countries across the globe due to the bottlenecks spurred by a 1995 Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS Agreement. This agreement provides strong intellectual property protection for vaccine technologies and this subsequently has affected the quantity and location of vaccine production and availability.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, it was obvious that vaccination of the global population was the only remedy to stem the flow and spread of the virus. This agreement has been activated by mostly high-income countries and this has impeded the production of vaccines, thereby stifling the vaccination plans of countries in the low and middle income brackets.
Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh’s call for the waiver on the IP rights is conjoined with other leaders in mostly low and middle income countries. The argument, which stands the moral test of time, is that the waiver is vital to increase production and supply, achieve global herd immunity and advance universal health equity.
At the moment, the inequity in the vaccination drive is ridiculous and pathetic. By late June 2021, 46% of people in high income countries had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 20% in middle income countries and a laughable 0.9% in low income countries. The vaccination gap between the various economic spheres is a disparity that should not be shrugged off. This inequity has been driven by a global political economy that has permitted some countries to purchase more vaccines than they require, while others have limited supplies. With the different variants of Covid-19 proving to be more dangerous potent than the initial strain, it is evident that without global vaccine equity and immunity, efforts against the virus could be jeopardised.
One of, if not the most immediate remedy to this disparity and the drive to attain universal vaccination is for the lift of the IP rights for vaccine production and Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh’s call resonates with most of the rest of the world. Politicians and leaders are at a critical juncture: they will either take the necessary steps to make vaccine technology available to scale production, stimulate global collaboration and create a path to equity or they will protect a hierarchical system based on an economic bottom line. The latter could have devastating consequences on the poor people of struggling economies and Vice President Juldeh Jalloh does not want to be judged poorly by posterity.
At the crux of the call by VP Juldeh Jalloh is that vaccine inequity is driven by the accumulation of vaccines by high-income countries and restricted vaccine production by a small number of manufacturers. Sharing intellectual property and technological know-how is pivotal to help expand Covid-19 vaccine production. The end result is a highly vaccinated population, opened countries and flourishing businesses once again.
The rest of LMICs should borrow a leaf from Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh to make this a reality. After all, the pandemic has effectively shut down the world. We need to reopen it for all and not just for a few.