Webinar 20: Conversations on COVID-19 – Vaccines: the end of the Covid-19 Pandemic?

December 7, 2020

Webinar 20: Conversations on COVID-19 – Vaccines: the end of the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Date:  November 27th, 2020

Time: Friday at 1pm GMT

As health officials become increasingly optimistic about the effectiveness of new Covid 19 vaccines, high income countries are purchasing sufficient numbers of vaccines to cover their entire population whist lower and middle income countries are unable to access or pay for vaccines for their most vulnerable.

In this webinar, we examine how decisions regarding allocation of vaccines to various countries are made and what can be done to ensure that such decisions are made on the basis of health need rather than wealth.

Our speakers will be invited to address the following key questions: 

Topics for Discussion:

  • Lessons from the past
  • Likely distribution of vaccine globally
  • Reasons for unequal distribution
  • Solutions to ensure adequate and fair access globally



  • Dr Kieran Harkin, General Practitioner and Co-Founder of Access to Medicines Ireland 

Dr Kieran Harkin in a Family Doctor who works predominantly with the Homeless Community in Dublin.  He is one of the founding members of Access to Medicines Ireland (AMI) which is a membership group of Comhlamh- an organisation for volunteers interested in development.   AMI campaigns for equitable access to medicines globally primarily by raising public awareness of the issues and welcomes all with an interest in this issue.

  • Hala Ali, Co-coordinator for ESTHER Alliance for Global Health Partnerships


A Summary of Points Made

Achal Prabhala is a fellow of the Shuttleworth Foundation and the coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa.

View his contribution

  • Three vaccine candidates have emerged following the global COVID-19 pandemic these are vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna Astrazeneca
  • The best case scenario or the Gold Standard is that by the end of 2021 they will have enough vaccine doses to inoculate 20% of the World’s population. This will not be equally distributed, with richer countries receiving more than their share of the 20% and poorer countries receiving less 
  • The problem with access to vaccines comes from monopolies – intellectual property like patency and trade secrets in biologics
  • However, the opposing force to this is the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP) and The Indian/South African Proposal For a WTO Waiver On IP For COVID-19 Related Health Products. 

Isabel Simpson, Executive Director – Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first worked with MSF as medical coordinator in Bosnia in 1996 and since then has held many senior positions including Head of Mission in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Somaliland and Iraq and as a Project Coordinator in North East India. Isabel has also worked as Executive Director of Programmes with MSF Australia. Isabel has also worked as an independent humanitarian consultant, specialising in exploratory and start-up missions for other international emergency and development organisations working in places such as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Chechnya, Iraq, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

View her contribution

  • For MSF the challenge and imperative is to ensure vulnerable communities living amidst health emergencies and in humanitarian crises or people in low & middle-income countries can get access to these vaccines
  • An estimated 85% of the projected initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine has been sold to high-income countries which only leaves a very small slice of their production capacity for other countries
  • There is also an issue around logistics – Pfizer and Moderna vaccines needs to be stored at very low post-freezing temperatures which would severely challenge many of the cold chain management facilities settings where MSF work
  • For years there has been a lack of transparency on research & development, clinical trial data, manufacturing costs and lack of suitability for settings that are not considered  profitable
  • Government needs to take responsibility by demanding that the pharmaceutical corporations urgently make public all the license agreements, the clinical trial costs, the data manufacturing cost and link this up to technology transfer as well

Dr Ellen F. M.  ‘t Hoen LLM PhD  is the director of Medicines Law & Policy, a group of legal and policy experts offering advice to international organizations and governments. She is the founder and former executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool. She is a fellow at the law faculty of the University of Groningen. She has a Masters degree in law from the University of Amsterdam and a PhD from the University of Groningen. She has published widely and is the author of several books. In 2017 she received the Prix Prescrire for her latest book “Private Patents and Public Health: Changing intellectual property rules for public health.” In 2020, she was appointed Officer of the Order of Oranje-Nassau, a royal award given in recognition of her work on access to medicines.

View her contribution 

  • COVAX would indeed deal with an international procurement and an international equitable distribution of the vaccines if all countries would collaborate, but what we have seen is a complete sort of ‘schizophrenia’ between what leaders of high-income countries are saying and what they are doing
  • There is a fear that middle-income countries can fall between the cracks. Whereby charitable approaches are used towards the lowest-income countries, middle-income countries are left to fend for themselves without actually having the resources to do so
  • CTAP is a mechanism to share intellectual property and knowledge. It fosters collaboration between the companies that hold the knowledge of how to make these vaccines with other production facilities to increase production capacity in developing countries 
  • It is important that we continue to put pressure on government and co-operation as well as research institutes to make CTAP work 


  • Dr Aisling McMahon is an Assistant Professor of Law at Maynooth University where she specialises in medical and intellectual property law. Her work is particularly interested in the role of patents within the health context, including the impacts patents can have on access to, and delivery of healthcare. Aisling has published widely within the leading international peer reviewed medical and intellectual property journals, including in the: Journal of Medical Ethics, Medical Law Review, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics,  and the Intellectual Property Quarterly. She is a member of Access to Medicines Ireland. 

View her contribution 

  • Intellectual property rights like patents allow the right holder (pharmaceutical company) to stop others from using their technology. This essentially means that they make pharmaceutical companies become gatekeepers of the technology to produce COVID-19 vaccines 
  • This means that they can stop others from manufacturing which can make a large impact on price and supply. They can also put themselves as the sole provider of the technology leading to a monopoly scenario
  • Access to Medicine (AMI) are actively campaigning for the Irish government to support the CTAP initiative as well as the waiver
  • President Michael D. Higgins has supported the initiatives and has called for the need for solidarity and unity. However, disappointingly,  the Irish government has not formally supported the CTAP initiative 


This series of webinars focuses on healthcare professionals and overseas staff working in Global Health in the era of COVID-19. The webinars are held live each Friday hosting experts to discuss several COVID-19 topics relevant to health professionals working in global health.




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