Vaccine Greed and Inequality – Manila Standard
“Double talk can only further fuel the public’s anger.”
Some time ago, the mayor of the city of Iloilo, Jerry Trenas, reportedly said “Pilipino din naman kami” as he angrily decried the apparent imbalance in the distribution of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines. The outcry from Trenas came in the wake of several other outbursts by local leaders, mainly in the Visayas and Mindanao, one of which, the mayor of Kidapawan town, Joseph Evangelista, even went so far as to say that the town has already advanced funds for the purchase of vaccines through the tripartite system imposed by the IATF. This apparent imbalance remains a controversial issue as the country aspires to possible collective immunity by the end of the year.
The problem, of course, is the availability of vaccines. No matter how rigorous, fair and balanced the IATF wants vaccine deployment to be, it is limited by the flow of supplies. Even though we have ordered and in fact prepaid the vaccine supply remains unpredictable as accredited manufacturers including four, Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford / AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, being publicly traded companies are limited by targets. of profit and increasingly by their own government’s policies which, in recent times, have become more politicized than ever. If those who produce the other three vaccines accredited by the WHO, SinoVac, SinoPharm and Sputnik V, do not have to meet the profit expectations of private shareholders, they are nevertheless part of their government’s political games.
This is why there is a growing international outcry for the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world if we are to accelerate the push towards a new global normal. But that’s easier said than done.
As food and agriculture specialist Devinder Sharma noted in a Tribune of India article, to date only one in 500 low-income countries have received a vaccine against one in four among high income countries. The inequality was such that at the last meeting of the G-7 countries, the WHO reiterated its call for members to increase their contribution in vaccines to the agency’s COVAX facility, noting that poor countries have so far received just over 2% of the supply while developed countries walked away with 87 percent, the remainder being shared by middle-income countries favored by manufacturers and their governments.
Indeed, as Sharma explained, instead of pushing for a faster vaccination campaign globally, the big four western vaccine makers and, one way or another, in concert with their governments, have used all the technicalities of the books such as patent protection granted under the Trade Act. World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to literally hold the world
at the ransom. So instead of sharing their manufacturing needs with accredited facilities in other countries to speed up production, they narrowed them down to a few. Even the deal AstraZeneca had with its Indian partner, Serum International, was so rigid that the Indian facility was not even able to produce as much for the needs of that country’s dying population during the outbreak there. a few months ago.
What annoys other countries is the fact that not only the big pharmaceutical companies, but also some developed countries, have accumulated vaccines and oppose any initiative to temporarily lift patent protection. The United States was accumulating 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the US FDA withdrew its approval for home use. Of course, after months of bickering and a global push, he decided to share the treasure with other countries through COVAX.
Sharma noted that although India, South Africa and some other developing countries have asked the WTO to allow a waiver of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines, the wealthy trading bloc – the states The United Kingdom, the EU, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Brazil and Australia – are opposed to such a decision, denying these countries access to the technology for engage in large-scale vaccine production.
Sharma said: “The pressure to oppose the waiver of IPRs (intellectual property rights) comes from pharmaceutical giants (and lobbyists) who have, in a signed letter to the US president, called for disregarding the joint proposal submitted by India and South Africa, stating that it was without any evidence. He also urged the US administration to continue to “oppose the waiver of intellectual property from TRIPS.” Hollywood is also siding with the pharmaceutical industry.
Although the TRIPS Agreement provides for a monopoly on patents for 20 years, there is a clause in the same agreement allowing developing countries the option of using compulsory licenses in the event of a national emergency to allow local manufacturers. To use patented technology without worrying about possible counterfeiting issues, there has not yet been a concerted effort on the part of Western governments to make this decision which, of course, has been a source of serious concern.
What makes it even more baffling is the fact that these governments have allowed Big Pharma to dictate the terms of the game, so to speak. Sharma said, for example, that Pfizer had offered its vaccines to India at a “not-for-profit” price, but had remained silent on the issue of patents. Company president Albert Bourla is said to have said the company is “… committed to providing fair and affordable vaccines to people around the world.” Of course, this so-called “offer” came as an afterthought as a result of reports. that the American pharmaceutical giant asked certain Latin American countries for military bases and sovereign assets as collateral in exchange for the supply of vaccines. Wow.
In its negotiations with Argentina, the reports note, Pfizer has asked the government to put its bank reserves, military bases and embassy buildings as collateral. In the case of Brazil, he called for military bases, sovereign assets and an international fund to amortize expenses resulting from probable lawsuits. Both agreements failed.
This case of double talk can only fuel further public anger as these privileged companies, all of which have been showered with public funding to accelerate research and manufacturing in the face of the global COVID-19 outbreak, are posting record profits. and more to come under their control. manufacture of vaccines. On its own, Pfizer, for example, is expected to increase its vaccine-related profits this year by $ 15 billion. It comes at a time when a horrific rise in viral infections is likely to occur for years to come, pushing hundreds of millions of people, especially in poorer countries, at risk of running out of vaccines. But the greed of the big pharmaceutical companies and the apparent acquiescence of their government will not go unpunished one way or another. There will come a day of judgment and it might not be far either. They cannot stay safely isolated enjoying their treasures as the virus ravages the earth and hundreds of millions of people suffer from their greed.
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