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The Lost Lessons of the Pandemic

By all accounts, COVID-19 has ebbed: the vaccines worked, and herd immunity has been attained in some countries. But the spread of a new subvariant underscores how the failure to reform an unjust innovation governance regime has prevented policymakers from harnessing pharmaceutical advances for the benefit of all.

WATERLOO, CANADA – The rituals of fall in the northern hemisphere now include preparing for a fresh variant of COVID-19, in addition to the annual flu season. This year, it is EG.5 (nicknamed Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of strife and discord), a subvariant of Omicron that is already prevalent in the United States, Canada, and several Asian countries.

Although the World Health Organization has identified EG.5 as a “variant of interest,” it is not a major public-health threat by dint of being a subvariant. COVID-19, the thinking goes, has ebbed: the vaccines worked, and herd immunity has been attained in some parts of the world, causing infection rates and the attendant morbidity and mortality rates to fall from their peaks in 2021 and 2022. But is this indicative of our successful response, or have we simply been lucky?

To be sure, the scientific community mobilized to develop tests, vaccines, and other therapeutics in record time. But, even at its worst, COVID-19 was not as virulent or deadly as past plagues. And, more importantly, scientific ingenuity was not accompanied by innovation in global governance.

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