Webinar - vaccine development, distribution and justice

‘How can COVID-19 vaccines be distributed equitably?’ was the question raised in our latest webinar in the (K)new World Reimagined series which looks at the potential for positive change post COVID-19.

Speaker Professor Allen Buchanan, Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona in the Department of Philosophy and Freedom Center, said while 'it made a certain amount of sense for state leaders to give special priority to the wellbeing of their citizens, there were limitations'. He said: 'Virtually all states have acknowledged human rights obligations that limit national partiality.' Also, that national partiality and the allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine is permissible up to but not beyond a point: when additional doses for one's own country would provide very meagre benefits compared to the harms to others that could be reversed by allocating those doses to them.

'A state had an obligation to allocate its remaining doses to others where the Rate of Transmission rates were greater than one,' he concluded. Additionally, it would also be ‘inappropriate for producers to exhaust their productive capacity in contracts with richer countries and not have any resources left to provide for less fortunate countries'.

Professor Glenda Gray, the first female president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council, said that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed, at a global level, the lack of resilience of the health systems in New York, in Spain, and in the UK - 'extraordinarily in the UK', she commented. In places like South Africa, there was definitely a lack of resilience, she said. ' We start in the beginning with the lack of global availability of something as simple as nasal swabs, both there and at a global level.'

Professor Gray’s main proposal was how to make health systems more resilient and address the global financing of healthcare. Highlighting the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, she said that under the plan, rich and poor countries pooled money to provide manufacturers with volume guarantees so there was a focus on vaccinating high-risk people in every participating country first. However, she pointed out that each participating country will receive doses for only a share of its population - up to 20 percent. 'This makes you choose who should get it,' which is a problem, she said.

The final speaker, Tian Johnson, Convenor of the Global Civil Society Platform for COVID-19 Research and Advocacy, noted that in some communities in South Africa, ‘they have celebrated the advent of COVID-19 as they have received running water for the first time in their lives'.

He said: 'That was not brought to them as a result of a thoughtful and accountable government process. It was brought to them by the pressure and on the back of a global wave of urgent handwashing messaging. So, we had a national level government encouraging people with "Wash your hands! Wash your hands!" "With what water?" they would ask.'

He summarized: 'We have no doubt in our mind that another pandemic is coming. So, we view this as an opportunity to really reflect and get mobilized.' He said his goal was to address financing around universal health care coverage, urging that now is the time to 'identify the low hanging fruits that exist to make urgent and dramatic changes to address social and structural determinants of health.'

The webinar was held on Thursday, September 17, 2020.

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