Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of WTO Photo: WTO.Org

Vaccine Equity: Okonjo-Iweala engages vaccine manufacturers, leaders on measures to boost productions

*The World Trade Organisation, again, has engaged its members, vaccine manufacturers, leaders, civil society advocates, and leaders of other international organisations on the burning issue COVID-19 Vaccine equity, and practical measures to address trade-related obstacles to increase vaccine production to save lives, hasten end of the pandemic, and accelerate global economic recovery

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Against the backdrop of the obvious vaccine supply and distribution inequities between the advanced economies and developing cum emerging markets across the world, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has conferred with all major stakeholders to act fast to address trade-related obstacles and increase COVID-19 Vaccine productions.

This is with a view to saving several millions of human lives, hasten end of the ravaging pandemic, and fast-track the global economic recovery.

Some COVID-19 Vaccine brands

ConsumerConnect gathered Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of WTO, while speaking at the conclusion of the WTO-organised meeting titled, “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?” April 14, 2021, said that statements from government ministers, vaccine manufacturers, civil society advocates and leaders of international organisations at the forum had identified problems and pointed to potential solutions to the pressing challenge.

According to her, the WTO organised the meeting with the stakeholder to achieve three goals, including the need to “pinpoint the obstacles, particularly the trade-related obstacles, to ramping up production, and to equitably distributing and administering vaccines — and we looked at how the WTO could contribute to these solutions.”

The second, she stated, was to bring together people who are able to increase and to scale up manufacturing, people in a position to share technology and knowhow, and people willing to finance additional manufacturing capacity.

Whereas the third goals was to think about the road ahead, including on the TRIPS waiver and incentives for research and development, so that we get the medical technologies we need, and no country is left at the back of the line waiting.

Okonjo-Iweala said that one refrain the stakeholders had heard continuously from everyone on the day is that “no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Coronavirus vaccines   Photo: Shutterstock

The WTO Chief said: “This is a problem of the global commons, and we have to solve it together.”

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a report on the global trade body’s Web site, expressed hope that the meeting, which included approximately 50 speakers, would serve as the basis for continued dialogue aimed at delivering results in terms of increased vaccine production volumes in the short-term.

According to her, the stakeholder engagement forum was as well organised to facilitate longer-term investments in vaccine production and enhancing the trading system’s contribution to pandemic preparedness.

She stated that the discussion threw more light on the complexity of the vaccine scale-up challenge across the world.

The report further indicated that the large number of trade-related concerns expressed during the meeting, from the importance of open cross-border trade for access to vaccine raw materials and inputs to differences over the role of intellectual property protections, showed that “the WTO must play a central part in the response to this crisis,” adding, “this is something in members’ control.”

It was learnt the WTO Director-General further expressed hope that the ideas raised during the meeting would “contribute to convergence in the TRIPS Council on meaningful results that contribute to the goals we share.”

Steps for concrete follow-up actions on discussions at the meeting

In identifying steps for concrete follow-up that emerged from the discussion on the need for vaccine equity and what the WTO and other stakeholders can contribute, Okonjo-Iweala said that WTO members could further reduce export restrictions and supply chain barriers and work to facilitate logistics and customs procedures in their countries.

COVID-19 vaccination

According to her, another measure is that vaccine producers themselves could work to maximise the existing production capacity where it exists, providing knowhow and technology transfer, and take steps towards longer-term investment.

She also highlighted the importance of increased contract transparency.

Okonjo-Iweala further stated besides international organisations and financial institutions’ providing financial support for existing and new capacity, they could offer capacity support on regulatory issues for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

Stakeholders’ commitment to cooperation, equitable access to COVID-19 Vaccines

“I hope that part of what we get from today is not only concrete action to increase (vaccine production) capacity, but also the elements of a framework on trade and health that we can pull together at the WTO, and put before Ministers at the 12th Ministerial Conference in December,” said the Director-General.

She noted: “I would look to such a framework to provide for trade-related preparedness to handle this pandemic, and the next one.”

She also explained that it is only by working together, across borders, that the stakeholders would be able to solve the problems of vaccine scarcity and equitable access so discussed at the forum.

“We heard first-hand from governments and vaccine manufacturers from developed, developing, and least developed countries, as well as a wide range of other stakeholders from international organisations, civil society and development finance institutions,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

In terms of the good news from the meeting, the WTO Director-General stressed that “supplies are ramping up and companies are learning by doing, that there have been major gains in productivity, and that there is still capacity.

“We also heard that there is a willingness to finance investment in vaccine manufacturing both in the short- and long-term, and there are ideas and energy to do things differently.

However, we heard from many that we need to do more. It hasn’t really been business as usual, so we may need to move on to “business unusual” to solve the problems before us, she stated.

The Director-General as well noted the action to further reduce export restrictions and supply chain barriers, and to work with other organisations to facilitate logistics and customs procedures.

She said: “We are monitoring this as part of our regular work, and we’ll continue doing so to increase supplies and maintain robust supply chains.

Trade, Okonjo-Iweala stated, has been underlined as a critical factor in production; it is incumbent upon WTO members to act.

As regards a great deal of agreement by stakeholders at the forum, she added “we agree that it’s not acceptable for people and countries to have to wait indefinitely for vaccines. “We do not want to repeat experiences of the past.”

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