Book Chapter: Three Steps to Facilitate Global Distribution of a COVID-19 Vaccine

Published by CEPR Press

This book chapter was published in Revitalizing Multilateralism: Pragmatic ideas for the new WTO Director-General, edited by Simon J. Evenett and Richard Baldwin, Centre for Economics Policy Research, VoxEU.

Once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, its efficacy will require wide and rapid distribution. There are reasons to be worried about the success of global distribution, given past experiences with vaccine hoarding and recent shortages of personal protective equipment and ventilators. To preserve domestic supplies, 90 economies implemented nearly 200 export restrictions on essential medical goods as of August 2020. During the H1N1 epidemic, advanced orders for vaccines from advanced economies left virtually no supply for developing countries (Fidler 2010). By September, high-income countries representing just 13% of the world’s population had their order placed orders for more than half of the future doses of the top COVID-19 vaccine candidates, bidding up prices and potentially leaving citizens of poorer developing countries to go without.

Unless COVID-19 disappears of its own accord, ample vaccine production and distribution is in everyone’s interest. Vaccination will protect essential workers, prevent clusters of infection from re-emerging and help to eliminate the virus. Northeastern University’s Mobs Lab demonstrates how vaccine hoarding among wealthy countries will lead to more deaths and a longer, drawn-out pandemic (Chinazzi et al. 2020).

A global vaccine-sharing agreement can help facilitate developing countries’ access and multilateral development banks can help finance purchases, but that will not be enough. There are existing trade-related mechanisms that policymakers should leverage to help meet COVID-19 needs. We propose three additional steps the WTO and the international trade community can take to facilitate global vaccine distribution.

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