Patients call on AstraZeneca to make coronavirus vaccine patent-free

By agency reporter
June 5, 2020

Patient groups have joined with campaigners to ask AstraZeneca for full disclosure of their plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine with Oxford University, outlining the need for vaccines to be patent-free. 

The British pharmaceutical company has recently signed a deal with Oxford University to produce the vaccine and has already received orders from the UK and US governments. 

Despite significant public funding for vaccine development, campaigners and patients expressed concern that AstraZeneca could still prevent universal access to its potential vaccine and in the long term profiteer from it. The company has said that it is working with other suppliers and publicly declared that they will offer “fair and equitable access to everyone around the world.”  

However, it has not confirmed if the vaccine will be free from pharmaceutical monopolies and campaigners are concerned this leaves significant loopholes that could still lead to the vaccine being out of reach for many people across the world. 

On 29 May 2020, the World Health Organisation launched a new global voluntary mechanism for open licencing of COVID-19 research and technology and patent-free vaccines: the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. The British government has not publicly committed to support the patent pool, nor taken the steps to make it mandatory for UK publicly-funded vaccines to be included. Instead it has made unsuccessful attempts to undermine international negotiations for open licensing. 

Heidi Chow, senior campaigns manager at Global Justice Now, said: “The government would have us believe that what’s good for multinational corporations based in Britain is good for the NHS and British people. But we know that to be untrue. Time and again we’ve seen big corporations profiteer at the expense of NHS budgets and people around the world. That mustn’t happen this time. Coronavirus will only be fought by using public money to guarantee patent-free medicines are produced and distributed to those most in need, wherever they live. With so much at stake, including significant public support, companies like AstraZeneca must disclose to us the terms by which they propose to make a potential vaccine available to the world.” 

Diarmaid McDonald from Just Treatment said: “This is our vaccine, developed with funding from our taxes. AstraZeneca have themselves stated that all their costs will be covered by public funds – as well as the money from the UK they’re getting over $1billion from the US government. They haven’t created this vaccine, they aren’t taking a risk in producing it, why should they get the chance to make monopoly profits from it either now or in the future? NHS staff and patients, and people around the world, expect action to prevent any monopoly undermining access to this potentially world changing vaccine.”

The letter to AstraZeneca is signed by breast cancer patients, parents of children with cystic fibrosis, as well as campaign groups Just Treatment, Global Justice Now, STOP AIDS, The Love Tank, Nurses United, and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines UK.

* Read the letter to Astra Zeneca here

* More information on the WHO's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool here

* Global Justice Now https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/

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