A Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus: Vaccines
COVID-19 vaccines are indispensable in the race to save lives and livelihoods during the pandemic. However, the unprecedented global need for vaccines presents a series of challenges, including corruption, inefficiency, and inequity. Examples of “vaccine capture” already demonstrate how the powerful and well-connected are using their influence to receive vaccinations ahead of others. The current distribution of vaccines is also exacerbating health disparities within and across countries, threatening to prolong the pandemic. More than half of all vaccinations have been administered in high-income countries, compared to just 0.1 percent in low-income countries. At the same time, COVAX, a global initiative aimed at improving equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, remains underfunded.
In this context, an open government approach to developing, buying, and distributing vaccines can help governments to better deliver vaccines. This requires incorporating elements of transparency, civic participation, and public accountability throughout the life cycle of vaccines. Doing so can mitigate corruption risks, achieve value for money, build public trust, and ensure that vaccines are reaching the people who need them most.
This section highlights specific open government actions that governments can adapt and weave into their immunization policies. Given OGP’s membership, these actions respond to challenges faced by domestic actors, which can be grouped into the following “4Ds”:
The actions are grouped below by stage of the vaccine life cycle. They draw from WHO guidance and other resources listed at the bottom of the page.
Review and Approval
Involving non-governmental experts in the authorization process and being open about the safety and effectiveness of particular vaccines is critical for gaining public trust. Research shows that an open approach early on generates vaccine confidence, which makes for a more effective distribution.
Procurement and Spending
The contracting process should include input from citizens and health sector experts from end to end, beginning with the planning phase through to monitoring that vaccines are delivered as expected. This can maximize the impact of dollars spent and reduce corruption in the acquisition of doses, among other benefits.
An open rollout produces a more effective, efficient, and equitable distribution of vaccines. For example, by publishing data on vaccine eligibility and uptake, people can be sure that shots are going to those who need them most. Meanwhile, partnering with local leaders and groups is essential for a strong dissemination that curbs vaccine hesitancy and empowers citizens to understand how to access vaccines.
Public Trust in Vaccines
Monitoring and Oversight
Establishing multiple, public-facing channels for monitoring ensures that the government can be held accountable for its vaccination policies and performance around all key challenges: doses, distribution, dissemination, and dollars.
The following examples are recent initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They may not directly address vaccines, but could be expanded to cover them explicitly.
AccountabilityLab tackles COVID-19 misinformation. The Coronavirus CivActs Campaign (CCC) gathers rumors, concerns, and questions from local communities in several countries – including Pakistan, South Africa, and Nigeria – and provides easy-to-understand bulletins with pandemic-related information.
Argentina publishes health contracting data. As part of its 2017-2019 OGP action plan, the government began disclosing health procurement information, including agreements signed with laboratories, the list of most-procured medications, and open data on individual purchases.
Chile used open contracting to bring down the cost of medicines. The country’s largest buyer of medicines, CENABAST, bought 60% of medicines at a lower cost in 2020, saving the government an estimated $9 million. This results from a new law allowing CENABAST to deal with private pharmacies to increase purchases and set maximum retail prices to benefit citizens. The reforms were driven by a community of civil society organizations, journalists, and activists using open procurement data to identify lack of competition and conflicts of interest amplified by country-wide protests in 2019.
Colombia improves transparency of medications. During its 2015-2017 OGP action plan, the Colombian government launched online services enabling citizens to see average drug prices, compare prices across medical establishments, and access instructions for use.
Liberia commits to open data on health supply chains. In its latest 2020-2022 OGP action plan, the government commits to disclose supply chain management decisions and updates, including around emergency procurements during the pandemic.
Moldova built an open contracting data dashboard for all COVID-19 contracts in 60 days. Local NGO Positive Initiative sought to improve Moldovans’ access to healthcare by lowering the price of HIV and tuberculosis medicines. In a matter of weeks, they managed to build a public platform that displays detailed information about all the government’s contracts for supplies and services to fight COVID-19. The platform’s user-friendly dashboards are designed to reveal real-time insights that are most relevant to taxpayers and vendors, such as price comparisons, how much each health facility has spent, when items are delivered, and which companies are supplying them.
The Philippines aims to ensure social benefits reach intended beneficiaries. The government launched a “Social Amelioration Package” to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups and established hotlines for citizens to lodge complaints and concerns around benefits. On the civil society side, G-Watch mapped existing disbursements, monitored the effectiveness of the hotlines, and more recently, outlined key citizen entitlements as part of the government’s vaccination program.
Partners who can provide further support and information
Thank you to Nicole King (Eureka Strategies), the Center for Global Development, Global Integrity, the ONE campaign, and the Open Contracting Partnership for reviewing this module.