A new policy briefing from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics highlights a need for action to ensure that vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 are offered fairly, to avoid deepening inequalities for disadvantaged populations already hit hardest by the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected disadvantaged populations. Those inequalities will be exacerbated without consideration of the ways in which treatments and vaccines can be developed, accessed, and distributed in a fair way to all those in need.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ briefing describes a number of factors that affect access to vaccines and treatments. Amongst these, some of the biggest barriers to access arise due to regulatory and pricing structures, including patents and commercial confidentiality laws which make vaccines and treatments unaffordable to some people, healthcare systems, and governments.

The Council emphasises that policies to ensure fair and equitable access to treatments and vaccines need to be in place prior to or alongside development, and that international cooperation and collaboration across all different sectors working on COVID-19 to share the benefits of research and treatment is key to this.

It says that more prosperous countries have an ethical responsibility to ensure that their responses to fighting the pandemic are measured and globally responsible, for example, avoiding purchasing monopolies on vaccines and treatments as they emerge.

Amongst a number of key challenges identified for policy makers, regulatory bodies, industry, research institutions, and funders, the Nuffield Council suggests:

  • harmonised regulatory regimes that ensure alignment across different countries to support and accelerate COVID-19 research efforts
  • addressing laws and regulation such as commercial confidentiality, data and market exclusivity
  • transparency and data-sharing through research coalitions and global initiatives such as the Open COVID Pledge, the WHO COVID-19 technology pool, and the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition
  • community engagement and initiatives to build public trust for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, with conversations around public expectations.

Read the briefing: Fair and equitable access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines


Notes to Editors

Media contact: Sarah Walker-Robson, Communications Manager, Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Email: press@nuffieldbioethics.org / Tel: +44 (0)7821 449 725