Africa urges no 'obstacles' to a COVID-19 vaccine for all

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Senegalese students learn about health and the coronavirus during an English lesson as they returned to classes on the first day back after more than three months away, at the Sacre Coeur college in Dakar, Senegal Thursday, June 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)

JOHANNESBURG – Governments around the world should “remove all obstacles” to swift and equitable distribution of any successful COVID-19 vaccine, including by making all intellectual property and technologies immediately available, African countries said Thursday.

The call from the African Union was Africa’s most assertive one yet for a “people’s vaccine” made available to everyone, even as rich countries like the United States make deals with manufacturers for potential supplies.

Using language that might put the pharmaceutical industry on alert, the African Union's new communique specifically mentions the Doha Declaration on public health by World Trade Organization members in 2001, which refers to the right to grant compulsory licenses.

“Compulsory licensing enables a competent government authority to license the use of a patented invention to a third party or government agency without the consent of the patent-holder,” according to the World Health Organization.

The African communique, read out after a continental conference on the quest for COVID-19 vaccines, states that there’s an urgent need for countries to “make full use of legal measures ... to ensure monopolies do not stand in the way of access.” It points out the “barriers” intellectual property posed in the past to affordable vaccines in developing countries.

The statement comes as the coronavirus spreads rapidly in Africa, with more than 337,000 confirmed cases.

Drug companies, however, have argued that they need to protect their intellectual property to fund their expensive research. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization supports a COVID-19 technology access pool where IP and data can be shared voluntarily.

African officials stress the shared approach.