PREMIER and Caricom President Dr Rowley officially called for a more equitable vaccine distribution system to give developing countries a chance to fight the covid19 pandemic. This pandemic has once again revealed how much developing countries are at the mercy of big for-profit pharmaceutical companies.
As we strive to vaccinate our population as a prerequisite for returning our economy to some semblance of normalcy, we are in a long line of powerless nations that lack the political or economic clout to challenge the naked vaccine nationalism that has once again ugly head.
While many developed countries have made significant progress in their immunization programs, developing countries like ours are practically begging vaccine manufacturers to facilitate their deployment programs. Mindful of the existing geopolitical order, the World Health Organization (WHO) anticipated such a scenario and created the Covax facility – an arrangement that aims to deliver more than two billion doses of vaccine to developing countries of by the end of 2021. But production has not been up to par. need, at the expense of less wealthy nations. Despite calls to accelerate global vaccine production, there are still significant gaps between global supply and demand.
Education International (EI) has played a leading role in opposing vaccine nationalism and big pharmaceutical companies profiting from a global pandemic. He continues to urge members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to support the proposed trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) waiver launched by South Africa and India, temporarily lift intellectual property rights on vaccines and covid19 medical products.
This proposal would give manufacturers and suppliers more freedom to operate on a fast-track basis, given the urgency with which the global community must act to achieve herd immunity and avoid further social and economic calamities.
EI Secretary General says: “Inequitable access to covid19 vaccines risks prolonging the pandemic, the ensuing school closings and disruption of education for months or even years. We are only now beginning to understand the negative long-term impact of school closings on children and youth, and the disproportionate effects on already disadvantaged groups of students. A safe and permanent return to on-site education around the world requires equitable access to vaccines everywhere. ”
Given the already devastating consequences of the pandemic, it is imperative that the global community act decisively to ensure rapid access to affordable medicines and medical products. All obstacles to the accelerated production and distribution of vaccines and related medical products must be dismantled with haste, especially for the most vulnerable countries facing severe shortages.
While more than 100 countries (mostly developing) have expressed their support for TRIPS, members of the European Union and major pharmaceutical companies have unsurprisingly expressed their opposition to such a move. They argue that patents encourage companies to invest large sums of money in necessary scientific research and development and that the transfer of technology is not so simple and straightforward.
They further claim that they have the means and the capacity to meet global demand. But the story will tell another story. Similar arguments have been made regarding the use of antiretroviral drugs against HIV / AIDS. Fortunately, the TRIPS Agreement allowed for compulsory licensing, where, in the event of a public health emergency, a country can copy patented drugs without the authorization of the original manufacturer with the approval of the ‘WTO.
Interestingly, Moderna has made a very laudable commitment to give up its covid19 patents during the pandemic. While mRNA is a new approach to vaccine manufacturing, WHO, in an attempt to facilitate the rapid transfer of this new technology, has established a technology transfer center to provide the mechanism for sharing the technology to worldwide. The TRIPS waiver request cites exceptional circumstances as a basis and will only apply for a specified period until widespread vaccination is in place worldwide and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity.
The need for global solidarity in the fight to end this pandemic is paramount. Now that scientific advances have been made to develop covid19 vaccines in record time, all existing global manufacturing and distribution capacities must be quickly harnessed to ensure that rich and poor countries emerge simultaneously from this pandemic as soon as possible.
Rich countries also need to reverse over-ordering and dose hoarding, lift vaccine export restrictions, speed up regulatory approval processes, and encourage companies to engage in voluntary technology transfers through unprecedented global partnerships and multilateral cooperation. Profits cannot take precedence over lives and livelihoods. The hegemony of vaccines represents a global threat that must be strongly denounced.