What are the obligations of pharmaceutical companies in a global health emergency?

Lancet 398 (10304):1015 (2021)
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All parties involved in researching, developing, manufacturing, and distributing COVID-19 vaccines need guidance on their ethical obligations. We focus on pharmaceutical companies' obligations because their capacities to research, develop, manufacture, and distribute vaccines make them uniquely placed for stemming the pandemic. We argue that an ethical approach to COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution should satisfy four uncontroversial principles: optimising vaccine production, including development, testing, and manufacturing; fair distribution; sustainability; and accountability. All parties' obligations should be coordinated and mutually consistent. For instance, companies should not be obligated to provide host countries with additional booster shots at the expense of fulfilling bilateral contracts with countries in which there are surges. Finally, any satisfactory approach should include mechanisms for assurance that all parties are honouring their obligations. This assurance enables countries, pharmaceutical companies, global organisations, and others to verify compliance with the chosen approach and protect ethically compliant stakeholders from being unfairly exploited by unethical behaviour of others.

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Author Profiles

Lisa Maria Herzog
University of Groningen
G. Owen Schaefer
National University of Singapore
Kok-Chor Tan
University of Pennsylvania
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