Covid-19 has given rise to many challenges, one of which is a global vaccine distribution solution. 

From a human rights perspective, this means how to get the COVID vaccine to communities and peoples in developing countries quickly, safely, at low or no cost without political-, class- or gender-discrimination.

But for corporations and the likes of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Gates Foundation this challenge might be described as how to get the COVID vaccine to communities and peoples in the developing world without disrupting the global pharmaceutical market, with a mechanism that circumvents long standing multilateral humanitarian relief systems while steering the vaccines to preferred allies in the developing world. 

The result is COVAX. And as a result, COVAX was not created primarily to help fight Covid in the Global South.

COVAX is a multistakeholder group established as the vaccine distribution arm of another multistakeholder body called the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT). COVAX’s principal function is to handle the financing of the purchase of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

It was designed to be more like a merchant bank, using capital provided largely from governments, to shape the global vaccine preparation industry and the Southern vaccine consumer market. It is designed like a regular international trade association interested in establishing this vaccine market based on a health care system where one is required to pay for health and one without national medical approval and without manufacturer liability. It is also built as a multistakeholder group operationally run by two other multistakeholder groups to marginalise WHO and avoid public accountability in global governance

This report concentrates on the political and economic repercussions on the global South and how COVID and the multistakeholder structure of COVAX is driving a transformation of global governance.

Multistakeholder governance is not the way to govern vaccine distribution, vaccine production, or the delivery of the vaccine to the peoples around the globe.

Multistakeholderism is premised on marginalising governments, inserting business interests directly into the global decision-making process, and obfuscating accountability. There are no standards of responsibility, obligation or liability for multistakeholder bodies. The multiple layers of the bodies ‘overseeing’ the multistakeholder COVAX program obscures any moral obligations, even while COVAX makes profound life decisions for hundreds of millions.

Probably no other commercial product has been produced that in its first years expects to have the entire world as its consumer base. COVAX as a multistakeholder body provides a gathering spot for business interests which otherwise may not be allowed to jointly plan marketing, productions, investments, and distribution in what is for them a major evolving vaccine global market. There is significant potential for commercial self-interest to be injected inappropriately into COVAX decisions. 

This report is published jointly by Friends of the Earth International and Transnational Institute (TNI).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Harris Gleckman is a senior fellow at the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Director of Benchmark Environmental Consulting. Gleckman has a PhD in Sociology from Brandeis University. He was a staff member of the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations, head of the NY office of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and an early member of the staff for the 2002 Monterey Conference on Financing for Development.