Exchanging virus samples for vaccine access

A nurse vaccinates a child in a health center in Managua on Dec. 16, 2010.

Steve Chiotakis: The World Health Organization is expected to announce a new global treaty today that'll end a four-year stand-off between underdeveloped countries where pandemics happen and Western companies that use tissue samples from those victims to make vaccines.

From the health desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Marketplace's Gregory Warner reports.


Gregory Warner: When avian bird flu hit Indonesia in 2004, the first thing the country did was share tissue samples of dead birds and people with the world's scientists in a race to find a vaccine. But then Indonesia stopped sharing.

Richard Gold: What they realized is, when the vaccines are developed, where are they going to be sold? Well it turns out it would likely be United States, Europe, Japan -- all the major markets -- and how much of it would actually come back to Indonesia if there's a pandemic?

Not much at all, says Richard Gold, an intellectual property lawyer at McGill Law School. But under the WHO treaty to be announced this week, developing countries will share virus samples and the pharmaceutical industry will give them affordable vaccines.

Gold: What the worry would be is, would the cost be too high to industry? You don't even know if you're going get a vaccine in the end. But you have this up front obligation that might deter you from investment downstream.

One thing this treaty doesn't address -- there aren't enough factories to supply vaccines to everybody.

I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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