Thursday, November 10, 2022

Big Pharma - Protecting Profits

More than 1,400 people around the world are still dying each day from Covid-19, and poor nations are still struggling to obtain sufficient vaccine doses and therapeutics. To date, just 23.4% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose. 

Big Pharma has made no secret of its opposition to waiving patents for coronavirus vaccines. A new investigation details the extent of the powerful industry's behind-the-scenes lobbying push as it sought to crush an effort to ramp up global production and distribution of the lifesaving shots.  The agreement the World Trade Organization finally approved in June—almost two years and millions of coronavirus deaths later—was so thoroughly gutted that it could no longer be accurately described as a waiver.

Joint reporting by Politico and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) revealed that pharmaceutical giants threatened several countries, including Belgium and Indonesia, with investment cuts if they decided to support a popular proposal to temporarily lift patent protections that have hindered vaccine production and distribution throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The pharmaceutical giants directly pressured and threatened country officials over the patent waiver.

"Big Pharma used its vast lobbying and influencing efforts to try to kill a proposal that threatened the very tenets of the industry," the outlets report. "Top industry executives enjoyed direct access to senior officials within the E.U., which was opposed to the proposal from the very start and encouraged potentially rogue member states, including Italy and France, to fall into line."

"And the U.S., after a dramatic late intervention in favor of a waiver for vaccines eight months after the proposal had been tabled, failed to follow through as the Biden administration came under pressure from industry and Congress."

Soon after Belgium's development cooperation minister Meryame Kitir appeared on TV to support a lifting of vaccine IP protections in late April 2021, the adviser received a call from Janssen's public affairs spokesperson.

"According to the adviser, [to the Belgian prime minister] the spokesperson warned them that if Belgium supported a radical proposal made by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization, then Janssen might rethink its vast billion-dollar research and development investments in Belgium," 

Between January 2020 and September 2022, 13 pharmaceutical lobby groups and companies held nearly 100 meetings with the most senior European Commission officials. In the U.K., there were more than 360 meetings between January 2020 and March 2022—equivalent to nearly one every two days. Boris Johnson personally attended 11 of them.

Max Lawson, co-chair of the People's Vaccine Alliance and head of inequality policy at Oxfam, said that "these shocking allegations are a testament to the huge unaccountable power of big business in global politics. Millions died without access to vaccines while pharmaceutical companies gouged extraordinary profits from the pandemic..." He continued,  "Rich countries expressed warm words and pledged donations, but to Germany, the U.K., Switzerland, and the European Commission, it was apparently just a PR exercise. In the end, global solidarity was snuffed out by the wealthy pharmaceutical lobby..."

Outrage as Investigation Shows How Big Pharma 'Snuffed Out' Vaccine Patent Waiver (

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