15 May 2020

Covid-19: Helen Clark backs people's vaccine

1:53 pm on 15 May 2020

It's essential for the health of people worldwide that a yet-to-be-discovered vaccine for Covid-19 is widely available, former prime minister Helen Clark says.

(FILES) In this file photo Dr. Nita Patel, Director of Antibody discovery and Vaccine development, lifts a vial with a potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland on March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, COVID-19.

A vial with a potential Covid-19 vaccine being worked on at a lab in Rockville, Maryland. [file pic] Photo: AFP

Clark told Morning Report there is growing concern that instead of vaccine being available globally it will become the monopoly of a very few wealthy countries and companies.

She has added her name to a letter from more than 140 prominent world leaders to Health Ministers at the World Health Assembly which is due to meet next week.

Reuters is reporting that France said today that the world's nations would have equal access to any novel coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi, a day after the company's chief executive suggested that Americans would likely be the first in line.

"A vaccine against Covid-19 should be a public good for the world," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said, adding that "equal access of all" was "non-negotiable."

He was speaking after CEO Paul Hudson told Bloomberg News yesterday: "The US government has the right to the largest preorder because it's invested in taking the risk." Hudson apologised today, saying it was vital that any coronavirus vaccine reach all regions.

No caption

Helen Clark Photo: supplied

Clark said the concept of a people's vaccine is so that everyone everywhere will be able to access it free of charge.

"Why is this so important? Because the world's leading virologists are telling us that without a vaccine we'll never live normally again so there is such a compelling public health reason for getting this out to everyone everywhere."

She wanted the profit principle for any vaccine eliminated and a wonderful precedent had been set by the inventor of the polio vaccine who said he never wanted a cent out of it.

A lot of countries were already funding development of the vaccines and with public money, such as the billions promised during an EU virtual conference managed from Brussels recently, the intellectual property comes into the public domain, Clark said.

A global agreement was needed so that the health workforce and the vulnerable, including the elderly, would access the vaccine first.

"Ideally you would establish a mandatory patent pool under the leadership of WHO ... governments of course can issue compulsory licences for the manufacture of drugs where there's a compelling public health reason ... there will need to be money mobilised from donors.

"...But basically this needs to be manufactured at scale so that it can be available at very low cost to everyone everywhere."

She said there was a chance of achieving this because of a "nobody is safe till everyone is safe" attitude.

New Zealand had been very successful in containing the effects of Covid-19 but would now have to sit tight in its bubble until the rest of the world catches up.

- Reuters / RNZ

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs