Monday, November 09, 2020

Vaccine Optimism

 The stock-markets boom at the news that Pfizer  that a phase 3, late-stage study found their potential Covid-19 vaccine—developed in collaboration with German drugmaker BioNTech—was more than 90% effective. Investors reckon Pfizer could make 60-80% profit on this vaccine. Pfizer is on track to apply this month for emergency-use approval from the FDA and that World Health Organization (WHO) senior adviser Dr. Bruce Aylward said the vaccine could "fundamentally change the direction of this crisis" as soon as March.

Heidi Chow, pharmaceuticals campaigner at Global Justice Now, however, cast a cloud over the sunny expectations.

 She said that "it's positive news that Pfizer may have found an effective Covid-19 vaccine, but right now it will only be for the few. We need governments to step in and make it available for the many—including by suspending patent rights, " explaining that  if the vaccine is determined effective enough to disseminate, there are production limitations.

"As it stands, Pfizer and BioNTech can only produce 50 million doses for 2020 and 1.3 billion for 2021—this is a two-dose vaccine, that means only 25 million can receive it this year and just 650 million people next year."

"This is nowhere near enough to meet global demand, especially when most of these doses have already been hoarded by rich countries through advanced purchase deals leaving nothing for lower income countries," she continued. "We are heading towards artificially created scarcity for this vaccine, which is completely unacceptable in a global pandemic."

According to Chow: "Pfizer and BioNTech need to share this vaccine with the world, not hoard it for profit. That should mean putting it into the WHO's global pool so that the technological know-how and patent rights are shared to enable multiple manufacturers to produce it as fast as possible."

"Since they won't, the World Trade Organization needs to act to suspend patents on all Covid-19 medicines, as South Africa and India have proposed," the campaigner added. "This is a race against time and we cannot allow the pursuit of profit to triumph over human need."

As The Telegraph reported in May:

But while pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson said they supported efforts to ensure the "equitable distribution" of vaccines and treatments, their executives condemned the concept of intellectual property (IP) pools during a press briefing...

"I think it is nonsense and at this point of time it's also dangerous," said Dr. Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer. 

 Unlike their competitors AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and GSK, Pfizer and BioNTech "have made no pledges not to profit from this vaccine during the pandemic," even though the latter has received public funding from both the German government and the European Union.

Concerns about availability and access to vaccines were expressed recently by UN Human Rights Experts 

"The emerging intellectual property disputes over patents as well as the possibility of having oligopolistic manufacturers could... hinder the development and production of Covid-19 vaccines as well as the availability, accessibility, and affordability of the vaccine at national and international levels...Access and availability of a vaccine cannot be left in the hands of traditional market forces, to be defined by rules of supply and demand," the group added. "Market solutions alone will not efficiently contain this pandemic nor prioritize the protection of millions of people in situations of vulnerability."

They declared that "the race for a Covid-19 vaccine must be, above all, a race to prevent more deaths and to protect the human kind, without discrimination on any ground and without consideration for national origin. This race, which serves as a light of hope in dark social and economic times, should be anchored in the essentiality of international cooperation and assistance and in the conviction that sharing the benefits of scientific progress is a human right as central as the rights to health and to life."

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