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Vaccine equity

  • It is giving everyone equal access to vaccines. Vaccine equity can decrease the risk of vaccine resistance.
  • Vaccine inequity has multiple causes, but wealth is a major factor.
  • Inequity damages the global economy; supply chains cross borders, and even areas with very high vaccination rates depend on areas with lower vaccination rates for goods and services.

Vaccine nationalism:

  • Vaccine nationalism occurs when a country manages to secure doses of vaccine for its own citizens or residents before they are made available in other countries.
  • This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.

How was it used in the past?

Vaccine nationalism is not new. During the early stages of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, some of the wealthiest countries entered into pre-purchase agreements with several pharmaceutical companies working on H1N1 vaccines.

  • At that time, it was estimated that, in the best-case scenario, the maximum number of vaccine doses that could be produced globally was two billion.
  • The US alone negotiated and obtained the right to buy 600,000 doses. All the countries that negotiated pre-purchase orders were developed economies.

IPR Regime and TRIPS

  • WTO has into its constitution a binding set of rules governing intellectual property.
  • Countries that fail to subscribe to the common laws prescribed by the WTO would be barred from entry into the global trading circuit.
  • It was believed that a threat of sanctions, to be enforced through a dispute resolution mechanism, would dissuade states from reneging on their promises.
  • With the advent in 1995 of the TRIPS agreement, this belief proved true.
  • The faults in this new world order became apparent when drugs that reduced AIDS deaths in developed nations were placed out of reach for the rest of the world.
  • It was only when Indian companies began to manufacture generic versions of these medicines as TRIPS hadn’t yet kicked in against India, that the prices came down.
  • Patent laws are usually justified on three distinct grounds:
  • On the idea that people have something of a natural and moral right to claim control over their inventions.
  • On the utilitarian premise that exclusive licenses promote invention and therefore benefit society as a whole.
  • On the belief that individuals must be allowed to benefit from the fruits of their labour and merit.
  • These justifications have long been a matter of contest, especially in the application of claims of monopoly over pharmaceutical drugs and technologies.



  • Vaccine nationalism is harmful for equitable access to vaccines.
  • It further disadvantages countries with fewer resources and bargaining power.
  • It deprives populations in the Global South from timely access to vital public health goods.
  • Taken to its extreme, it allocates vaccines to moderately at-risk populations in wealthy countries over populations at higher risk in developing economies.

What needs to be done?

International institutions — including the WHO — should coordinate negotiations ahead of the next pandemic to produce a framework for equitable access to vaccines during public health crises.

Equity entails both, affordability of vaccines and access opportunities for populations across the world, irrespective of geography and geopolitics.