Oxfam calls on pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine knowledge free of patents

By agency reporter
September 18, 2020

Wealthy nations representing just 13 per cent of the world’s population have already cornered more than half (51 per cent) of the promised doses of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, Oxfam has warned

Oxfam analysed the deals that pharmaceutical corporations and vaccine producers have already struck with nations around the world for the five leading vaccine candidates currently in phase three clinical trials, based on data collected by Airfinity.

The international agency also warned that the same companies simply do not have the capacity to make enough vaccines for everyone who needs one. Even in the extremely unlikely event that all five vaccines succeed, nearly two thirds (61 per cent) of the world’s population will not have a vaccine until at least 2022. It’s far more likely some of these experiments will fail, leaving the number of people without access even higher.

The calculations expose a broken system that protects the monopolies and profits of pharmaceutical corporations and favours wealthy nations, while artificially restricting production and leaving most of the world’s population waiting longer than necessary for a vaccine.

One of the leading vaccine candidates, developed by Moderna, has received $2.48 billion in committed taxpayer’s money. Despite this, the company has said it intends to make a profit from its vaccine and has sold the options for all of its supply to rich nations at prices that range from $12-16 per dose in the US to around $35 per dose for other countries, putting protection out of reach for many people living in poverty. While it may be making real efforts to scale up supply, according to reports, the company only has the capacity in place to produce enough for 475 million people, or six per cent of the world’s population.

Oxfam and other organisations across the world are calling for a People’s Vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and distributed fairly based on need. This will only be possible if pharmaceutical corporations allow vaccines to be produced as widely as possible by freely sharing their knowledge free of patents, instead of protecting their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder.

Chema Vera, Interim Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “Governments will prolong this crisis in all of its human tragedy and economic damage if they allow pharmaceutical companies to protect their monopolies and profits. No single corporation will ever be able to meet the world’s need for a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s why we are calling on them to share their knowledge free of patents and to get behind a quantum leap in production to keep everyone safe. We need a People’s Vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”

Beyond the five leading vaccine candidates, reported vaccine deals also reveal stark inequalities between countries. The UK government has managed to secure deals on several leading vaccine candidates, equivalent to five doses per head of population. By contrast, Oxfam analysis reveals that Bangladesh has so far secured only one dose for every nine people.

There are also large differences in the willingness of pharmaceutical companies to set aside supply for poorer nations. While Moderna has so far pledged doses of its vaccine exclusively to rich countries, AstraZeneca has pledged two-thirds (66 per cent) of doses to developing countries. Although AstraZeneca has done most to expand its production capacity by partnering with and transferring its technology to other manufacturers, it could still only supply up to 38 per cent of the global population, and only half of this if its vaccine requires two doses.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under-Secretary General, said: “We in the AIDS movement have seen in the past how corporations use monopolies to artificially restrict supplies of life-saving medicines and inflate their prices. UNAIDS and other members of the People’s Vaccine Alliance are calling for a new approach that puts public health first by sharing knowledge and maximising supply. Anything short of that will lead to more deaths and economic chaos, forcing millions into destitution.”

The estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone on Earth is less than one per cent of the projected cost of COVID-19 to the global economy. The economic case for requiring pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine knowledge free of patents so that production can be scaled up as fast as possible could not be clearer, the agency said.

* Read People over profits: Make COVID-19 medicines and vaccines free and fair for all here

* Oxfam International https://www.oxfam.org/en

[Ekk/6]

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