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Konstantin Hondros & Milena Leybold

Is an open source vaccine inside?

Just over a year ago, Milena Leybold and Leonhard Dobusch asked, Why is there no open-source vaccine against Covid-19? and discussed arguments why open-source vaccines are difficult to achieve. In March 2022, The Financial Times published an article by Donato Paolo Mancini, Jamie Smyth, and Joseph Cotterill asking Will ‘open-source’ vaccines narrow the inequality gap exposed by Covid? (behind a subscription barrier) and indicating that the landscape of open-source vaccines may have changed substantially.This blog post is thought of as a reply and extension to this very informative report that introduces mainly two organizations producing or aiming to produce open-source vaccines: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines (Afrigen) and the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development (CVD with their vaccine Corbevax). For sure, Afrigen and CVD approach vaccine development, production, and distribution much more openly than most of the vaccines dominating the market. Still, it is unclear to what extent they should be considered as “open-source.” To clarify this topic, we scrutinize what an open-source vaccine ideally could be, to what degree Afrigen or CVD fit the ideals of open-source, and what other attempts for open-source vaccine alternatives are currently under development.

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This post is provided by Jasmin Schmitz, Research Assistant at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research

When the then novel Covid-19-virus broke out in December 2019, it soon spread globally posing a challenge to health governance all across the globe. Internal containment measures were put in place to domestically stop the virus through lockdown or social distancing; internationally borders were closed, and travel restrictions were put in place to stop the ongoing spread at the borders. When first news broke that vaccine-trials were showing promising results, this seemed like the salvation from ever increasing new infections. Already during the first wave of Covid outbreaks trends of nation-focused policies could be observed. While there are certainly cases of cross-border cooperation, they tend to remain the exception. The WHO tried to install a global distribution mechanism through COVAX yet the initiative did not succeed in gaining global influence; Vaccine nationalism became is predominant mode of governance. The access to the shot has become highly dependent on where one lives. The inequality in access to vaccines has sparked discussion surrounding intellectual property as well as the involvement of public financing in the developmental stage of the pharmaceutical. So, more than half a year since the roll-out of the immunization campaign started, it is time to take a look at the distribution of vaccines globally and why they should not be viewed as the sole solution to the pandemic.

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Over at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research, we have recently launched Cooperadio – The Global Cooperation Podcast. In its most recent episode on “Patents, Profits & Pandemics”, I had the honor and pleasure to host intellectual property scholar Susan Sell, who echoes a growing consensus that our intellectual property regime, that is so essential for 21st century intellectual monopoly capitalism, is hampering global health outcomes – not just in the current pandemic.

Together, we addressed questions such as the following:

  • While in regions like Europe and North America national vaccination campaigns have been picking up speed over the past months, the less well-off majority of the world has seen little to no vaccine supplies.
  • Why does it have to be like that?
  • Is there a moral obligation to make health innovations easily available globally?
  • What about the intellectual property rights of the researchers and creators of these innovations, should they not profit from their work?

Check it out!

(sigrid)

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
December 2022
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