Thirty countries led by Costa Rica and the World Health Organization launched an initiative on Friday aimed at sharing vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tools to tackle the global coronavirus pandemic. While the developing nations' push, called the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, was welcomed by groups including Doctors Without Borders, a drug industry alliance questioned if it would really boost collaboration or broaden access to COVID-19 medicines.
The WHO effort comes amid concerns rich countries pumping resources into finding vaccines - more than 100 are in development - will muscle their way to the front of the queue, once a candidate succeeds. Switzerland, home of big drugmakers Roche and Novartis, has also raised fears of "vaccine nationalism", saying it wants to ensure fair access.
WHO Issued a 'Solidarity Call to Action'
"Vaccines, tests, diagnostics, treatments and other key tools in the coronavirus response must be made universally available as global public goods," Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado said, of the voluntary initiative. The effort, originally proposed in March, aims to provide a one-stop-shop for scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property amid a pandemic that has infected more than 5.8 million people and killed some 360,000. The WHO issued a "Solidarity Call to Action", asking other stakeholders to join the push.
However, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations raised concerns about undermining intellectual property protections, which the industry group said enable collaboration and will be needed after the pandemic is over, to prepare health systems for new challenges.
"By urging licences or non-enforcement declarations for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to be granted on a non-exclusive global basis, the 'Solidarity Call to Action' promotes a one-size-fits all model that disregards the specific circumstances of each situation, each product and each country," the federation said.
Countries to sign up are Argentina, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Mozambique, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Sudan, the Netherlands, East Timor and Uruguay, the WHO said.