‘What are the obligations of states and corporations to ensure access to a COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccine access is a matter of life and death for many. For others it is a matter of their livelihoods.

A number of vaccines for COVID-19 have been developed in record time and the hope is that this will bring an end to the death, suffering, and disruption to ordinary life caused by the pandemic. Yet, currently, only a small number of countries from the Global North are being able to vaccinate at a rapid rate with access to COVID-19 vaccines having been conditioned by the ability to make large investments in the developments of the vaccine. The vaccines are being manufactured by large private companies, based almost exclusively in the Global North, who have become household names. Yet, their development involved not only private funding but also large amounts of public money and research. Moreover, some of the vaccines were tested on people living in countries in the Global South, including in South Africa. The patenting of the vaccines not only has allowed for the ability of companies to charge high prices but also restrictions on who may supply the vaccines which is partly responsible for current shortages.


This seminar will seek to investigate the following questions at both the international and domestic law levels:


What are the legal obligations of individual states to provide vaccines to their own populations? In particular, what are the obligations of the South African government in terms of its own Constitution and international law?

What are the legal obligations of individual powerful states to assist other states to gain access to the vaccine?

What barriers does the current intellectual property system – both globally and in South Africa – place on vaccine access and how can this be remedied?

What are the obligations of pharmaceutical companies to ensure individuals can access COVID-19 vaccines?

What are the challenges to ensure these obligations are enforced? 

What are the possibilities for enforcing these obligations?

Does the discussion of COVID-19 vaccine access provide an indication of what law reforms – both domestic and international – are necessary to realize the right to health for everyone?

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Please RSVP to


  • Dr Sharifah Sekalala (University of Warwick)
    • Prof David Bilchitz (SAIFAC
      • University of Johannesburg
      • and University of Reading)
    • Ms. Fatima Hassan (Health Justice Initiative)

      Nancy Msibi

      Nancy Msibi bild

      Project Manager +27 (11) 214 2900-110