As the world’s wealthiest democracies met at a G7 Summit focused in part on COVID-19 vaccine issues, a panel of top experts in the field of international vaccine distribution convened at the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI).

Just as President Biden announced that the U.S. would donate 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX for global distribution, this late-breaking seminar delved into the legal, ethical, and logistical issues behind the headlines. An expert panel discussed how to ensure swift global access to the vaccines and the role of the U.S. and other wealthy nations in making it happen.

The panel reviewed the origins of COVAX, which was established to serve as a global purchaser and distributor of COVID-19 vaccines, especially for low-income countries that cannot afford to purchase vaccines directly. Despite their efforts, only 0.2% of COVID vaccine doses have actually reached people in those areas, with higher income countries securing an overwhelming share of available vaccines. Panelists discussed the intellectual property and patent protections that inhibit global vaccine distribution and the challenges in building capacity to manufacture vaccines in middle- and low-income countries. They stressed that there is no silver bullet or short-term solution—achieving equitable vaccine distribution will be a multi-year challenge and requires a multi-faceted approach. Even with concerted efforts, vaccines will not likely reach low-income countries until 2023.

Panelists pointed to three ways to improve global vaccine distribution processes to address current needs and prepare for future pandemics:

  1. Carry forward successful COVID-19 vaccine distribution mechanisms so they can be easily activated in the future;
  2. Create a more open science platform for vaccine development;
  3. Expand the capacity to manufacture vaccines across the world.

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