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Nearly 300 international scientists call on WHO Member States to adopt vaccine equity mechanism in proposed draft pandemic treaty

Center News


February 23, 2024 – Today, 290 international scientists, including Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Senior Scholar Dr. Alexandra Phelan, published a commentary in Nature urging World Health Organization (WHO) Member States to ensure vaccine equity in future pandemics by adopting a proposed Pathogen Access and Benefit-Sharing (PABS) System within the draft global pandemic treaty currently being negotiated.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, genomic sequence sharing led to rapid vaccine development and mass vaccination in the US and Europe, but widespread vaccine nationalism led to staggering inequities in access to vaccine doses in low- and middle-income countries, especially in the Global South. The proposed PABS system, outlined in Article 12 of the latest pandemic treaty draft, faces an uncertain fate as negotiating countries have yet to reach agreement on a final text. A PABS system would not only help countries share pathogens and genetic sequence data more quickly but would also better ensure equitable access to pandemic-related products and other benefits.

“The Pandemic Agreement could be the last chance to fix this problem before the next COVID-19 arrives,” write the authors. “As time runs out, we urge WHO member states to agree on a ‘science-for-science’ mechanism that ensures vaccine equity in the next pandemic. … As a collective of 290 scientists from 36 countries, we argue that a pandemic treaty cannot succeed unless it ensures that everyone will benefit from pandemic science.”

Dr. Phelan delivered an intervention at the recent WHO Intergovernmental Negotiating Body meeting and reiterated that PABS “is the chance to enshrine a legal obligation to share samples and sequence data rapidly and comprehensively, but – for justice and global health security – such obligations must be on equal footing with the equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use.”

Since 2022, WHO Member States have been negotiating the Pandemic Agreement to reform global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. This week, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body reconvened for its second-to-last session, with a decision on the treaty’s adoption, including the PABS system, anticipated by May 2024.

Read the commentary published in Nature.

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