COVAX & the question of liability: COVID-19 vaccines

Even as uncertainties around vaccines supply to much of the developing world remain, there are complex questions on liabilities awaiting downstream of this massive, global vaccination exercise. Authorities in Geneva claim that the yet unseen challenges on fixing liability issues have been addressed in the form of a no-fault compensation fund that will pay for claims arising out of the introduction of vaccines in the developing world.

This expansive analysis takes a close look at some of the technical, political and economic compulsions that have shaped liability discussions within the COVAX Facility.

Last week top officials of WHO told the Executive Board that the COVAX Facility will ensure that vaccines will begin rolling out in several low and middle income countries starting February 2021. Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the ethical, legal and practical considerations of COVID-19 vaccines, DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for”. So there is a certain urgency in understanding these dynamics around liabilities in the context of COVID-19 vaccines.

In this story we try to explore the basic questions, who will cover the costs, how and what could one expect in the future. We also look at how these questions on liability were addressed in the past, specifically during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. Experts also told us how changing market dynamics in the COVID-19 vaccines business could influence liability and indemnification provisions in the coming months.

The reason this is important is, although vaccines will have secured relevant regulatory authorizations for their introduction, given the unusual and unprecedented speed, manufacturers will not get insurance to cover associated risks. Without this coverage, it could impede or delay the access to vaccines. As a result, countries must indemnify manufacturers against liability claims. But as we know, many countries do not have financial or judicial capacities to address such claims. Therefore the need for a global solution as applicable in the developing world, to address this pandemic. The question is, will it work?

Photo by Thirdman from Pexels


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