[WSMDiscuss] IP, Vaccine Imperialism Cause Death and Suffering, Delay Recovery

Jomo jomoks at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 16 09:59:18 CET 2021

IP, Vaccine Imperialism CauseDeath and Suffering, Delay Recovery

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo KwameSundaram 

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 2021(IPS) - Vaccine developers’ refusal to sharepublicly funded vaccine research findings is stalling broader, affordablevaccinations which would more rapidly contain COVID-19 contagion. The pandemichad infected at least 109 million people worldwide, causing over 2.4 milliondeaths as of mid-February.

Avoidable delays in preventive vaccination areimposing terrible burdens on the world economy and human welfare, with economicdisruption demanding more relief and recovery measures. They have cost US$28 trillion in lost output globally, with developed countriescontracting by 7% in 2020.

Avoidable vaccination delays
National capacities to cope with the pandemic have been largely determined bymeans and power. Thus, access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, personalprotective equipment and other pandemic supplies has been severely lackingin most African andother poor countries.

At currentvaccination rates, it would take “not one or two years, but sixyears” to reach 75% global coverage, currently considered theminimum to achieve ‘herd immunity’against COVID-19.

Patentprotections, vaccine production constraints and the rich country scramble willdeprive more than 85 poor countries of public access to vaccines before 2023. As of 5February, not a single dose had been administered in 130 countries with 2.5 billion people.

Of the morethan 131 million doses availableby 8 February, the US, China, the EU and the UK had 78%, while Africa had 0.2%!Meanwhile, the African Union has only ordered less than half of what it needsto reach herd immunity, i.e., just 670 million doses.Meanwhile, besides Brazil, other Latin American countries only have 150 million doses forless than a quarter of their population.

Supply shortfalls
By the end of 2021, total global capacity of the13 leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers would still be wellshort of the needs ofthe world’s almost 7.7 billion people. Even if they all produce at maximumcapacity, a fifth of the world’s population would not have access until 2022.

Richcountries continue to oppose theSouth African-Indian proposal to temporarily suspend relevant provisions of the1994 World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects ofIntellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to effectively block rapid scaling up ofgeneric vaccine production.

The resulting“catastrophic moral failure”is thus mainly due to vaccine suppliers’ profit maximisation,also limiting supplies and access. Meanwhile, rich countries’ grossly excessivevaccine purchases can vaccinate their residentsseveral times over.

The US willsoon have enough to vaccinate its population twice over, while Canada andAustralia have booked enough to protect residents several times over.Exceptionally, New Zealand – which has also ordered several times itspopulation’s needs – plans to freelyshare vaccines with its Pacific island neighbours.

Manufactured scarcity and prices
Global needs now greatly exceed available supply. Middle-income countries havejoined the scramble, making onerous direct deals with vaccine suppliers,typically on worse terms than if they had bargained collectively.Unsurprisingly, vaccine prices vary considerably, by more than 12-fold, from US$6 to US$74 per dose.

As countrieshave not published contract details, acceding to vaccinesuppliers’ terms, lack of transparency has enabled abuses. And when forced tocomply with Freedom of Information Act requests, documents are heavily redactedbefore release.

Such limitedtransparency enables ‘vaccine imperialism’ as big power ‘vaccine nationalism’impairs others’ access. Thus, following its spat withAstraZeneca, the European Commission (EC) banned vaccine exports to mostcountries outside the EU.

Double standards rule
In fact, cross-border enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs) isrelatively recent. Big Pharma successfullylobbied their governments for TRIPS inclusion in the 1994 WTO foundingdocuments. This greatly strengthened and extended IPRs transnationally.

Now, as thesenon-transparent deals are disputed, European politicians are threatening ‘patent grabs’.EU President Charles Michel has warned of “urgent measures” demandingcompulsory licensing, provided for by the European Treaty.

This wouldrequire vaccine developers to facilitate generic production, which thedeveloping country-backed TRIPS temporary waiver proposalseeks for all countries. Nevertheless, the EU, other rich countries and theirallies still oppose therequest to enable rapid scaling-up of affordable vaccine supplies.

Publicly financed vaccine development
To accelerate vaccine development, expenses and risks have been mainly borne bygovernments, rather than by developers or private finance. The six topcandidate vaccine developers have already received over US$12 billion ofpublic money, sometimes with little to show for it.

Of the moresuccessful, Moderna received US$955 million forresearch and development plus a premarket purchase commitment of US$1.53billion. In Europe, Pfizer/BioNTech got €375million from the German government and another €100 million for debtrefinancing from the European Investment Bank.

Yet, despitemassive public financing, vaccine developers retain the IP monopoly rightto profit. Thus,the prospect of huge gains from2021 vaccine sales revenue of almost US$40 billion is delaying progress againstCOVID-19.

Greed kills, unless…
AstraZeneca promised Oxford University not to profit off any COVID-19 vaccines“for the duration of the pandemic”. However, its contracts allow it to declarethe pandemic over as early as mid-2021. It could then charge higher prices forvaccines developed with public money for the university.

TheAstraZeneca vaccine was ‘trialed’ on the South African population. Yet, it ispaying 2.4 times more than the EU –US$5.25 compared to US$2.16. This makes a mockery of “benefit-sharing” andpriority “post-trial access”promises. Meanwhile, turning ‘ability to pay’ on its head, Uganda is paying 20% more thanSouth Africa!

Having thegreatest vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world by far, the SerumInstitute of India has several contracts to produce the Astra-Zenecavaccine for different countries. In India, it will sell 90% tothe government and 10% to the private sector at a higher price.

Waiver can end pandemic
Vaccines produced generically at greater scale will be far more affordable,enabling more rapid containment of the contagion, infections, deaths anddisruptions. Until herd immunity is achieved nationallyand globally, priority in allocation should be on the basis of urgent need,rather than ability to pay or political muscle.

The best wayforward now is the TRIPS waiver proposal,still blocked by rich country governments at the WTO. It would enable allcountries to affordably make or buy ‘generic’ vaccines. This would mosteffectively expedite containing the pandemic with the least loss of lives andlivelihoods.

IP, vaccine imperialism cause death and suffering, delay recovery

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IP, vaccine imperialism cause death and suffering, delay recovery

Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR: Vaccine developers’ refusal to share publicly fu...



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