Ahead of the opening today of the Special Session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board on the COVID-19 response, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) submitted a statement raising our concerns around ensuring access to vaccines for vulnerable populations and overcoming intellectual property barriers to scale up manufacturing and global supply of COVID-19 medical tools. The Special Session follows up on the WHA73.1 resolution that was approved by Member States in May 2020.
Please find below the full statement in addition to two flash quotes from MSF Access Campaign’s Executive Co-Director, Dr Sidney Wong.
For interviews or for more information, please contact Elise Erickson at Elise.ERICKSON@geneva.msf.org or +41-79-886-4601.
Flash quotes: Sidney Wong, Executive Co-Director, MSF Access Campaign
“As a medical humanitarian organisation working with people in crisis-affected settings, we are worried that the most vulnerable communities — refugees, asylum seekers, marginalised populations, and people living in conflict areas — who are often deprived of healthcare, will once again be left behind in the race to access COVID-19 medical tools, including future vaccines. WHO must take urgent action to make sure there are specific mechanisms that ensure timely and sufficient access to safe and effective vaccines, as soon as they are available.”
"Since the start of this pandemic, we’ve seen the pharmaceutical industry carry on with ‘business-as-usual’ tactics as an unprecedented situation unfolds. Pharma is continuing to pursue commercial secretive and monopolistic agreements, and in doing so, is perpetuating the same access inequalities and inequities that we’ve seen before. Now more than ever, we need enforceable measures to overcome intellectual property barriers and truly facilitate scale up of manufacturing capacity and global supply of safe and effective COVID-19 medicines, diagnostics and vaccines."
Statement regarding agenda item 3 of WHO Executive Board Special Session on COVID-19 Response
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) appreciates the efforts that have been made by WHO and its member states in combating the pandemic but reiterates the challenges in achieving universal equitable access to COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.
Resolution WHA73.1 affirms the importance of ensuring humanitarian assistance during the pandemic. Refugees, asylum seekers, marginalised populations, and people living in conflict areas often have the least access to, or are excluded from, national health services and therefore require specific mechanisms to ensure access to COVID-19 countermeasures, in particular vaccines. To this end, we welcome the intention to develop a humanitarian vaccine buffer under the WHO Global Equitable Allocation Framework. However, it is still unclear how large this buffer will be; how this will be operationalised; and whether this will be the only humanitarian mechanism to ensure access to future COVID-19 vaccines for these contexts. We therefore urgently call on the WHO secretariat to implement an effective mechanism to secure timely and sufficient access to effective and quality-assured future COVID-19 vaccines for these neglected populations.
Second, despite resolution WHA73.1 explicitly urging WHO and its member states to adopt measures to overcome intellectual property barriers and to facilitate sufficient manufacture and supply of effective COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and diagnostics, little has been achieved. Instead of having enforceable mechanisms, WHO, member states and the implementing institutions of the WHO’s ACT-A continue to rely on voluntary contributions of the pharmaceutical industry, which refuses to offer non-exclusive licenses with worldwide coverage to facilitate global access. Instead, we have witnessed the ‘business-as-usual’ practice of pharmaceutical corporations pursuing secretive and monopolistic business agreements, perpetuating inequalities and inequities in access.
We urge WHO and its member states to prioritise resolving the issues above and look forward to the full implementation of resolution WHA73.1.