The Online Webinar on the Strategy for Universal Access to Vaccines and Medicines against Covid-19 was organized jointly by Gautam Buddha University, Howard University, USA, Association of Indian Universities, Haryana Higher Education Council, Kurukshetra University, Swadeshi Swawlamban Trust, etc. The theme of the webinar is one of burning issue of the present time. In the Online Webinar a galaxy of scholars from Academia, Medical Practioners, Social Workers, Industries, etc. have deliberated upon the theme of the webinar under the umbrella of Gautam Buddha University and Howard University, Association of Indian Universities, and other institutions from India and abroad. The luminaries who have addressed the audience of the webinar are from India and USA. The issues highlighted by the eminent speakers are as under:
Dr Pankaj Mittal, secretary general, Association of Indian Universities said that vaccine is the only hope to save humanity from this Pandemic. All of us should unite to make an opinion in the world community about free access to vaccines to all.
Ron Somers, former chairman, US-India Business Council, said: Stressed on the issue of Voluntary Licensing which will provide access to vaccines and it will not undermine IPR and enable further innovation as in the past also India and the USA collaborated for producing vaccines for HIV, Hepatitis B, etc. India has seven vaccine manufacturers which are efficient and capable enough to produce vaccines on mass scale once technology is transferred. Prof Marilyn Sepocle, chairperson of Women Ambassadors Foundation, was of the view that pharma companies have to play a major role in producing the Vaccine and should use their innovation as a gift to the humanity.
Prof. Bhagwati Prasad Sharma, Vice Chancellor, Gautam Buddha University says, the huge figures of Covid affected cases offer only a glimpse of the exorbitant human costs of the pandemic. At the national and international levels, COVID-19 has brought to the fore systemic inequalities, aggravated pre-existing institutional weaknesses including in health, food and procurement systems, and highlighted a lack of access to quality, accessible and affordable health care for all. Socio-economic inequality has deepened even further. He further stressed that global humanity must unite to save humans from Covid pandemic. World cannot wait for the WTO to take a decision on relaxing laws for producing vaccines.
Prof. Pradeep Kapur, former ambassador and Amazon bestselling author of the book Beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic said, “India has done a marvelous job in controlling Covid related medical emergency. No governments in the world, name any one, can go alone by itself to deal with the Corona Pandemic and resulted chaos in the first and second phase.”
R Sundram, all India convenor of Swadeshi Jagram Manch said that this pandemic should unite the world in its fight against China Virus. Swadeshi Jagran Manch is playing a major role in bringing world leaders to a consensus for patent free vaccines. Satish Kumar of Swadeshi Jagran Manch has said that 3 lakh people have already signed the petition for making corona vaccine free from patent regime. 1,500 vice-chancellors, intellectuals, scientists, and economists have also signed another similar petition. Saji Narayanan, former All India President of Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh observed that new terms, like vaccine racism and vaccine apartheid are in currency these days, which is indeed a cause of concern. We must decide what is more important, profit or humans.
Dr. Pradeep Reddy, MD and a Pediatrics Specialist in Marion, Illinois and member of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin said that regulatory hurdles in supply of International aid for Covid medicines and equipment must be addressed on priority basis which is the only way to counter this pandemic created medical emergency.
Dr. Johnrose Austin Jayalal, national president of the Indian Mediacal Association said that countries with 13 per cent of world population have ordered 50 per cent vaccines. At this rate 9 per cent of the population of lower income countries will be without vaccination till the end of 2021 or longer. However, India has walked the talk and Bharat Biotech has given vaccine manufacturing license to three companies and is ready to give voluntary license to any manufacturer in the world.
Prof. Narendra Rustagi, director CGBS, Howard University, highlighted the fact that we need to lift patent conditions for a limited period so that humanity can be saved. Reasonable profits can be shared with innovators to meet the cost of innovation. Dr. Yogender Malik, all-India general secretary, National Medicos Organization, said that there are seven vaccine manufacturers in India with the capability to make Covid vaccine. India has walked the talk. Bharat Biotech has given voluntary license to Indian manufacturer and further willing to give licence to any manufacturer in the world. Prof. Som Nath Sachdeva, vice-chancellor, Kurukshetra University, coordinated with the foreign and Indian speakers in the smooth organization of the webinar. He said that this seminar, with a major support of Kurukshetra University, has been successful in building a world-wide opinion about Patent free vaccines and medicines to a 70 % world population to fight the pandemic.
Prof. B K Kuthiala, chairman, Haryana Higher Education Council, observed in his vote of thanks that through such webinars a discourse of consensus is emerging through the efforts of intellectuals, social organizations, policy makers, and education administrators, scientists to provide free access to vaccines, medicines and medical equipment in this unprecedented situation of pandemic.
One of the participants is of the view that “pandemics are a crucial example of the need for scientific international cooperation to face transnational threats. Viruses and other pathogens do not respect borders. Combating pandemics effectively requires stronger commitment from national and international agencies. If a pandemic develops, sharing the best scientific knowledge and its applications, especially in the medical field, becomes crucial to mitigate the impact of the disease and to expedite the discovery of effective treatments and vaccines.”
Other participant says that No one is secure until all of us are secure and further says that countries with more financial means are rushing to sign deals to gain preferential access to vaccines which will in turn leave other countries behind. He referred to vaccines as a global public good, which should be fairly and equitably available globally, leaving no one behind. Now is the time to put it into action. Apart from above mentioned highlights, the other main issues that have been deliberated by the participating experts in which participants discussed the issues of access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines as central to the achievement of universal health coverage. Some of the main points are:
1. More than 49 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 1.2 million deaths and the it continues to prove more deadly than anticipated while the world carries on facing the cumulative and interconnected health, economic, social and human rights crises it has unleashed.
2. All efforts to prevent, treat and contain COVID-19 must be based on the bedrock human rights based principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance. There is no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines, essential tests and treatments, and all other medical goods, services and supplies that are at the heart of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all.
3. In order to mitigate and contain the spread of the pandemic globally and to support national and international economic and financial recovery, it is imperative that COVID-19 diagnosis and vaccines are fully available, accessible and affordable to all on this planet.
4. A mechanism aimed at guaranteeing fair access for all, rich or poor, to effective immunization is the need of the hour. There is a high risk that global competition will increase the prices of the vaccine.
5. Intellectual property rights should not override Government obligations to protect and fulfil the right to health, which entails providing for immunization and treatment against major infectious diseases to all without discrimination.
6. Indian Government must build an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic which requires rapid access to affordable medical products, including diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as vaccines and medicines for the prevention and treatment of patients in dire need.
It is recommended that the race for a COVID-19 vaccine must be, above all, a race to prevent more deaths and to protect the human kind, without discrimination on any ground and without consideration for national origin. This race, which serves as a light of hope in dark social and economic times, should be anchored in the essentiality of international cooperation and assistance and in the conviction that sharing the benefits of scientific progress is a human right as central as the rights to health and to life. The solutions alone will not efficiently contain this pandemic nor prioritize the protection of millions of people in situations of vulnerability. We join our voices to prioritize access to vaccines and treatments for the people and to ensure scientific progress benefits all. At the same time we also support the call to recognize “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing and stopping transmission in order to bring the pandemic to an end, once safe, quality, efficacious, effective, accessible and affordable vaccines are available”.
Access to medicines and vaccines continues to be a challenge worldwide. The key difficulties include lack of good governance and regulation, high prices, shortages and stock outs, limited collaborations and, more recently, the impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. COVID-19 has imposed additional barriers to access to medicines and vaccines, including the impact of lockdowns on the supply chain which led to shortages of medical products and increases in price.
The strategies aims at ensuring everyone has access to the quality essential medicines and vaccines they need without discrimination of caste, color and creed. The strategic objectives further discussed related with: updating and implementing national policies for medicines and vaccines; securing adequate and sustainable funding; ensuring the availability of medicines and vaccines at fair and affordable prices; establishing efficient supply systems; strengthening national regulatory authorities; ensuring appropriate use of medicines; promoting research and development as well as local production; and establishing a strong partnership framework.
The strategy also proposes a set of priority actions which are: securing sufficient domestic public funding for essential medicines and vaccines; reviewing national vaccination schedules and essential medicines lists; reviewing medicine and vaccine procurement systems; promoting local production; establishing a regional pooled procurement/joint purchasing arrangement; sharing information on prices; and establishing partnerships and improving collaboration.
Some of the outcomes of the Webinar are:
1. Comply with international obligations of ensuring access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatment to all.
2. Ensure that important technologies, intellectual property data and know-how on COVID-19 vaccines are widely shared and developing countries are supported in scaling up development, manufacturing and distribution capacities to ensure equal access to such vaccines.
3. Attention on ensuring that vaccines are accessible to one and all without any ifs and buts.
The Online webinar smoothly and successfully conducted which reflects in the presence of more than 600 participants.