Event details

Not Charity, But Rights: Universal and Equitable Access to Covid-19 Vaccines

Session at the Second United Nations South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights organized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, South Centre, and Human Rights Watch

March 17 12–1:30pm CET/4:30–6pm IST

Recording available here:


Event details

Session Description:

By late February, over 110 million people were diagnosed with Covid-19 and more than 2 million people have died. New strains of COVID-19, bringing additional waves of lockdown, are delaying economic recovery. Safe and effective vaccines can help halt the pandemic. Everyone, everywhere should have access to such vaccines. Yet, to date, vaccine access has been woefully unequal. In early February, more than 90% of countries rolling out vaccines were high-income; 75 % of the 130 million doses were administered in 10 countries; 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, were yet to receive a single dose. By the end of February, vaccine doses had reached over 100 countries, but more than half of all the doses had gone to just two countries; 80% had gone to 10 countries.

Universal and equitable access to vaccines is fundamental to mitigate the public health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. States have an obligation to protect people’s rights to life, health, and an adequate standard of living and should take measures in their own countries and cooperate globally to maximize vaccine access and affordability, starting with health care workers, other frontline essential workers, and other most-at-risk populations. States also have an obligation not to interfere with the discharge of another country’s human rights obligation. India and South Africa, supported by over 100 governments, have proposed an emergency temporary waiver of some provisions of the TRIPS Agreement. However, certain states have blocked this proposal at the World Trade Organization for over five months, despite the huge gaps in vaccine supply, made worse by delays in already scarce supplies. On their part, the private sector, including the COVAX Facility and pharmaceutical companies, have human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the 2008 UN Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies on Access to Medicines, to help make vaccines widely available and affordable.

Key objectives of the session:

  • To explain why affordable, non-discriminatory access to a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine is a human right.
  • To outline the human rights obligations of states (individual and collective) and human rights responsibilities of business enterprises.
  • To make the case for why COVID-19 vaccines should be made “global public goods;”
  • To explain how the TRIPS waiver proposal is a global solution, and aligned with a rights-based approach (international cooperation and assistance to share the benefits of scientific research).
  • To emphasise that globally, priority vaccine access should be given to health workers, other frontline workers, and at-risk populations without discrimination.

Key questions:

  • What are some key steps states should take to protect the rights to life, health, and adequate standard of living?
  • How does vaccine nationalism impede access to vaccines and what global coordination efforts are necessary for universal and equitable access to vaccines?
  • What are the human rights responsibilities of the relevant business enterprises under the UN Guiding Principles?
  • What are the necessary elements for vaccines to be global public goods?
  • Why is the temporary waiver of certain provision of the TRIPS Agreement critical?

Session format: Moderated discussion followed by open discussion.

Background materials:


Aruna Kashyap, Senior Counsel for Business and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch


Abdul Muktadir, Chairman, Incepta Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Viviana Muñoz Tellez, Coordinator, Health, Intellectual Property and Biodiversity Programme, South Centre

Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director-General, Access to Medicines and Health Products, World Health Organization

Brajendra Navnit, Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the WTO, Permanent Mission of India, Geneva

Register here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScHsYir2kT4ov6bsxua70yT2THuzHvDI0-RfcklR-jdR8jT6Q/viewform

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