Equitable access to COVID vaccines worldwide

The European Union can drive global efforts to end the pandemic, writes AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Zoya Shabarova.
Source: AIDS Healthcare Foundation Europe

By Zoya Shabarova

Zoya Shabarova is the Europe Bureau Chief of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation

14 May 2021

The right to health protection is a fundamental right of every European Union citizen, according to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 31). During the pandemic, this right has become especially important because it is a question of life and death. We therefore cannot overstate the importance of the EU ensuring that every one of its citizens can exercise their right to health protection. However, how is the EU protecting us from pandemics using current tools, namely the vaccines?

While writing this article from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most prosperous countries, with advanced and efficient healthcare systems, I am tired of hearing endless promises by the government that one day I will be vaccinated. We do not want to hear explanations of why it is impossible to deliver on earlier promises. There is no valid explanation when people’s lives are at stake. We want to see real actions from our governments, and we want to get our vaccines now. It is critical that the fundamental right to health protection, which is guaranteed to every EU citizen by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, is actually implemented.

“European leaders should firmly agree now to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to produce vaccines, because the EU needs to be on the right side of history at this pivotal moment in time”

However, another important aspect of fighting the pandemic is that nobody is safe until everyone is safe. The virus does not recognise or respect borders. The EU is leading efforts to provide developing countries with vaccines via the COVAX initiative. However, the global need for vaccines cannot be satisfied with donations from wealthy countries alone. One important solution is to ensure production of vaccines where the need is greatest: in developing countries. Waiving the intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines held by pharmaceutical giants is key to meeting the growing vaccines demand. European leaders should firmly agree now to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to produce vaccines, because the EU needs to be on the right side of history at this pivotal moment in time.

Vaccine production is a complex process, consequently all related know-how and technologies as well as the development of qualified cadres must accompany the patents waiver. This is the only way to meet global needs so that we can protect the world against COVID-19. We need close regional cooperation to make this work, and its critical for the EU to lead this process.

Today, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest provider of HIV/AIDS care and treatment globally, is spearheading a worldwide initiative which calls on governments, vaccine manufacturers, and international public health institutions to ‘VOW’ to protect humanity and provide equal access to COVID-19 vaccines so we can “Vaccinate Our World” (VOW).

Several elements must come into play in order to achieve a balanced, coordinated response and to avoid another public health and social disaster. First, the global COVID-19 vaccination effort must secure $100bn from G20 countries. Second, it must produce and provide seven billion vaccine doses worldwide within one year. Third, companies and governments must waive or suspend all COVID-19 vaccine patents during the pandemic. Fourth, countries must be 100 percent transparent in sharing information and data. Fifth, world leaders must promote far greater international cooperation as the driving force for ending the pandemic, not continue with politics as usual.


Please visit https://vaccinateourworld.org/ to join the VOW campaign, follow its progress, and track achievements in equitable vaccine access.

This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group