Would Exempting COVID-19 Vaccines from Intellectual Property Rights Improve Global Access and Equity?

Rachel Bonnifield
Adrian Towse
James Love
Prashant Yadav
February 08, 2021

A new year starts off at CGD in part with a new “Debates in Development,” and we hope you’ll lend your views.

There’s nothing new of course about the decades-long debate over intellectual property rights and life-saving medicines. But as we approach the one-year mark of the COVID-19 global pandemic, with a handful of new vaccines already approved for emergency authorization and millions of people recently inoculated, it is becoming increasingly likely that the world may soon look quite lopsided in one distinct way – hundreds of millions of residents in wealthy nations will be vaccinated before billions of people in developing countries have similar access. A global advocacy campaign is currently seeking to exempt COVID-19 vaccines from IP protections, contending that this action would mobilize additional manufacturers and help address vaccine access disparities. Others argue that doing so could dissuade additional manufacturing investments and undermine long-run vaccine development, including to address emerging COVID-19 variants.

With COVID-19, no one is safe until everyone is safe. So Rachel Silverman kicks off this debate by asking, would exempting COVID-19 vaccines from intellectual property rights improve global access and equity?