Corruption Risks in the Global Deployment of COVID‑19 Vaccines: The Case of COVAX

Kohler, Jillian | $34,000

Ontario University of Toronto 2021 SSHRC

CONTEXT: As COVID‑19 vaccine deployment is being launched, a robust vaccine supply system is critical to safeguard the vaccine supply and ensure equitable access to these vaccines for all populations. In October 2020, the UN Secretary-General announced that corruption was one of the greatest risks to making gains against the pandemic. Even in regular times, the procurement and distribution of vaccines, as with other health goods, are highly susceptible to corruption. Corruption is defined as “the misuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Corruption risks in the vaccine procurement cycle include government officials receiving bribes or kickbacks from suppliers and market division or collusion among the bidders, leading to shortages and inflated prices. Corruption risks in vaccine distribution include theft of vaccines from a public supply chain for personal use or to sell in the black market. While the different forms of corruption in vaccine procurement and distribution processes are well-established, less is known about corruption risks in these processes in the context of COVID-19. Moreover, mechanisms that promote accountability and transparency, two key principles of good governance, may help reduce the risk of corruption. However, there is a limited understanding of how these types of mechanisms can be implemented in the vaccine procurement and distribution processes during public health emergencies. Given that corruption is one of the biggest barriers to making gains in global access to COVID‑19 vaccines, there is an urgent need to understand the corruption risks and associated good governance mechanisms to minimize these risks.

OBJECTIVES: The research aims to examine the corruption risks in the public procurement and distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines and how accountability and transparency can support anti-corruption efforts in these processes to improve access to the vaccines for all populations.

METHODOLOGY: Guided by the good governance conceptual framework, the project will produce a case study that thoroughly describes the COVAX Facility’s approaches to the procurement and distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines and any transparency and accountability measures they implemented. COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator (2020) to facilitate the global procurement of COVID‑19 vaccines. We will also conduct in-depth, qualitative key informant interviews via telephone/Zoom with 25 persons, including 15 representatives from organizations co-leading COVAX and 10 representatives from 5 member countries of COVAX (Brazil, Canada, France, India, Kenya) to capture their perceptions about transparency, accountability and corruption risks in COVID‑19 vaccine procurement and distribution.

IMPLICATIONS: Due to the lack of knowledge about the corruption risks and good governance mechanisms in the procurement and distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines, the findings will play a crucial role in filling these evidence gaps. Particularly, the descriptive case study and key informant interviews will help understand the corruption risks and how global institutions and different countries may be implementing transparency and accountability measures to minimize corruption in the COVID‑19 vaccine procurement and distribution processes. The findings can be used by governments, global institutions, and policymakers to develop and implement evidence-based strategies to curb corruption amidst a public health crisis and prepare our global society to address corruption during unprecedented times. This research will also produce vital knowledge that can greatly support global efforts to advance better access to COVID‑19 vaccines for all populations. Ultimately, reducing inequities and improving health outcomes for all.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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