Covid, unhindered trade and vaccine equity have been at the centre of the debate on resolving the world's largest public health crisis. Doing away with export restrictions on critical inputs, creating adequate manufacturing facilities to waiving intellectual property rights on vaccines have been offered as effective solutions to address the crisis.What is the appropriate policy response both international and domestic to get over the epidemic is a question that engages policy makers the world over.
An interesting solution offered by Chad P. Bown (PIIE) and Thomas J. Bollyky (Council on Foreign Relations) in the PIIE is of having a Covid Vaccine Investment and Trade Agreement (CVITA). They outline the 4 main features of the proposed agreement as follows:
1. Production allocation - whatever vaccines are produced by members of this agreement should be allocated between the global Covax initiative and used domestically. No room for vaccine nationalism here.
2. Subsidize vaccine supply chains - Help manufacturers in increasing production by subsidising their inputs
3. Prohibition of export restrictions on both inputs and final vaccines by signatories to the agreement
4. Transparency - on supply chains, inputs and vaccine production by signatories.
The authors have mooted this as a deliverable at the XII Ministerial Conference at the WTO. Will the major players agree to this formula? Will the objective of vaccine equity be met with this arrangement? What about a waiver? The authors don't necessarily think it will work:
A second proposal, initially made by India and South Africa, was to waive patents for vaccines. Such a waiver by itself is likely to have only a limited immediate impact on increasing production, given that the main technological impediment to vaccine manufacturing is how to affirmatively transfer production knowhow, not the patent. (There are other impediments to scaling up manufacturing, such as insufficient supply of specialized inputs, inadequate regulatory oversight, and an inexperienced workforce, that a patent waiver would also not resolve.)
One must assess if this agreement is politically feasible at this stage of the crisis wherein major developing economies are still engaged in providing vaccination to their people.
Another interesting part of this piece was the diverse ways in which supply chains and production arrangements work for different pharma manufacturers. The supply chains of both Pfizer and Astra Zeneca were laid out.