Chelsea Clinton urges global sharing of COVID vaccine technology, as COVAX donations fail

August 16, 2021: The campaign to change WTO rules to rapidly boost production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment is stalemated in the World Trade Organisation, but it has a new champion in Chelsea Clinton, now a professor of health policy at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

On May 5, 2021, the Biden-Harris administration decided to support a suspension of patents for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organisation – the “TRIPS waiver”. This proposal came from South Africa and India, and is now supported by over 100 poorer countries. Professor Clinton says that a December deadline for a decision on this, set by WTO Director General Dr Ngozi, displayed a continued lack of urgency.

Clinton is supporting the waiver and advocating for the Biden-Harris administration to push pharmaceutical companies to license their technologies to the many facilities around the world that could begin to make the vaccines. “I hope that the administration will see this not only as the morally right thing for the American government to do, but also as what’s in our best interest to ensure that we’re protecting American lives and livelihoods.

“We cannot move forward in a durable, sustainable way until we minimize the risk of future variants, which will happen only when we vaccinate the world,” Clinton said in a Nature magazine interview on August 3, 2021.

“We can't continue to dither. Donations are not a scalable strategy. And that is why I and many others are calling for not only broad-based IP [intellectual property] and the sharing of technical know-how, but also real investment to help ensure that people everywhere can be vaccinated. I think, at some point, we will wind up there. But it’s very painful for me to think about how many lives will be lost between that point and where we are today”.

She argues that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel could compel BioNTech to share its patents and technology for mRNA vaccines because her government substantially funded the research. The same should apply to Moderna, funded by the US government, where the US National Institutes of Health even owns some of the patents.

The Biden-Harris administration has promised to donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of a 1 billion dose promise made by the G7 on June 11-13. So far, the US has sent 110 million doses. Clinton wants the full donation made now, but says, “We can’t donate our way out of this”.

COVAX, a COVID-19 vaccine donation and subsidy program driven by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation but coordinated by the World Health Organisation, was supposed to ensure through sheer buying power that poor countries received vaccines as quickly as the rich. But its goal of vaccinating 20 per cent of populations in poorer countries by the end of 2021 was never going to provide the necessary protection.

By mid-August 2021, it is well short of its goal of providing 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. So far COVAX has delivered 203.1 million doses to 138 countries. Poor countries are dangerously unprotected as the Delta variant runs rampant, just the scenario that COVAX was created to prevent.