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Global equitable access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for COVID-19: The role of patents as private governance
  1. Aisling McMahon
  1. Department of Law, National University of Ireland Maynooth, Maynooth, Kildare, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Aisling McMahon, Department of Law, National University of Ireland Maynooth, Maynooth, Kildare, Ireland; aisling.mcmahon{at}


In June 2020, Gilead agreed to provide the USA with 500 000 doses of remdesivir—an antiviral drug which at that time was percieved to show promise in reducing the recovery time for patients with COVID-19. This quantity represented Gilead’s then full production capacity for July and 90% of its capacity for August and September. Similar deals are evident around access to proposed vaccines for COVID-19, and such deals are only likely to increase. These attempts to secure preferential access to medicines and vaccines, so-called vaccine/treatment nationalism, jeopardise supplies of life-saving treatments and vaccines available elsewhere, and jeopardise global equitable distribution of such vaccines/treatments more generally. Much of the focus to date has been on States’ role in negotiating such deals. However, such developments also demonstrate the power patent holders have in controlling access to life-saving healthcare, determining who obtains access first and at what price. This article argues that the extent of control currently given to patent holders for COVID-19 must be questioned. This article demonstrates that patents have significant implications for healthcare acting as private governance tools over patented inventions. It is only by greater probing of patent holders’ role in delivering access to medicines, diagnostics and vaccines for COVID-19 that equitable global equitable access can be achieved.

  • right to healthcare
  • decision-making
  • distributive justice
  • law

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  • Contributors AM is the sole author of this paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests The author is a member of Access to Medicines Ireland (AMI).

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work.

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