SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 (IPS) – At least 85 poor countries will not have significant access to coronavirus vaccines before 2023. Unfortunately, a one-year delay will cause an estimated 2.5 million preventable deaths in low- and lower-middle-income countries. As the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said, the world is facing a catastrophic moral failure.
Anise ChowdhuryVaccine Apartheid
The EU, US, UK, Switzerland, Canada and their allies continue to block the developing country’s proposal to temporarily suspend the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights agreement (TRIPS) for a significantly improved and affordable supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs, tests and equipment.
Meanwhile, 6.4 billion of the 12.5 billion vaccine doses that major producers plan to produce in 2021 have already been pre-ordered, mostly by these countries, which make up 13% of the world’s population.
32 European and other rich countries also have the option to order more, while Australia and Canada have already secured enough supplies for five times their population. Poor countries, which often charge higher prices, simply cannot keep up.
Big Pharma has also refused to join the voluntary COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) initiative for knowledge sharing and patent pooling under the auspices of the WHO. Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), declined to start, claiming he was “too busy”.
Pfizer CEO dismissed C-TAP as “nonsense” and “dangerous” while AstraZeneca CEO insisted “IP is a fundamental part of our industry”. Such attitudes explain some of the problems with alternative vaccine distribution schemes such as COVAX. According to its own board of directors, there is a high probability that COVAX will fail.
Suppression of vaccine access
Although Cueni knows that many developing countries have a large idle capacity, he falsely claims that renouncing “would do nothing to expand access to vaccines or increase global manufacturing capacity” and jeopardize innovation and vaccine research.
Jomo Kwame SundaramBig Pharma claims manufacturing vaccines through compulsory licensing or a TRIPS waiver would “undermine innovation and increase the risk of unsafe viruses”. US Big Pharma representatives wrote to President Biden earlier this month, also claiming.
Both Salk and Sabin made their discoveries of polio vaccines patent-free, while many contemporary vaccine researchers oppose the greedy behavior of Big Pharma and only reward intellectual property owners, regardless of the diverse but crucial contributions of others.
The Big Pharma price cut
Vaccine companies require that contract prices be kept secret. In return for discounts, the EU agreed to keep prices confidential. Even so, some negotiated prices were accidentally exposed, with prices from various sources shown on a UNICEF chart.
Oxford-Astra Zeneca is the cheapest vaccine available and sells to EU members for around $ 2 each. Although trials have been conducted in South Africa, it still pays more than twice as much, while Uganda, even poorer, pays more than four times as much!
US-negotiated bulk prices for Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines are much higher at $ 15.25 to $ 19.50 per dose across multiple contracts, making a 60 to 80% profit margin! Moderna charges the rest of the world $ 25 to $ 37 per dose.
Understandably, most developed countries opposed to temporary TRIPS suspension have provisions in their own IP laws to suspend patent protection in the national interest and for public health emergencies.
Canada, Germany, France and others recently tightened their patent laws to issue compulsory licenses for COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. European Council President Charles Michel announced that the EU could take “urgent action” by including emergency provisions in its treaties.
Similarly, in the United States, US 28 Code § 1498 (a) allows the government to make or use inventions without the permission of the patentee. To cope with emergencies, the UK Patents Act 1977 (Section 55) allows the government to sell a patented product, including certain drugs, drugs or medical devices, without the consent of the patent holder.
When avian flu loomed early this century, the United States was the only country in the world to issue compulsory licenses to US manufacturers to make Tamiflu to protect the entire population of over 300 million people. The drugs were not used because the virus was not brought across the Pacific or the Atlantic.
Biden has to act
By helping developing countries build vaccine manufacturing capabilities and access existing capabilities, US President Biden can earn a lot of global recognition overnight. US law and primacy enable such a unilateral initiative.
The Bayh Dole Act allows the US government to require the owner or exclusive licensee of a federally created patent to license an invention to a third party. Moderna received approximately $ 2.5 billion from Operation Warp Speed, which spent over $ 10 billion.
Moderna was founded in 2010 by university researchers with the support of a venture capitalist. It has focused on mRNA technology and builds on previous work by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania with funding from the National Institutes for Health (NIH).
The vaccine developer also used technology for previous coronavirus vaccines developed by the NIH. The NIH also provided extensive logistical support and supervised clinical trials for tens of thousands. Moderna has already announced that it will not enforce its patents during the pandemic.
Thus, POTUS has the necessary leverage. The Bayh Dole Act applies to Moderna’s vaccine and allows the Biden government to act independently and decisively against vaccine apartheid.
Knowledge sharing is crucial
Developing countries must not only have the right to manufacture vaccines, but also the necessary technical knowledge and information. Therefore, the Biden administration should also support C-TAP, as suggested by Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended.
When the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) was in similar trouble, the Obama administration came forward to add US patents to the pool while encouraging drug companies to improve developing countries’ access to medicines.
President Biden knows that early US support was critical to the MPP’s eventual success. It increased production dramatically and lowered the price of drugs for HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases in developing countries.
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