“Vaccine nationalism” is what is called the behavior of governments – right and center – of developed countries in their dispute to ensure the supply of the vaccine against Covid-19 to their respective populations.
It is actually the idea of ”saving who can” from fools, as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Covid-19 everywhere means Covid-19 everywhere”.
This quest to ensure their own well-being, while poor nations are left to defend themselves, ignores the fundamental aspect of the mutations that emerge that make the virus more resistant. Therefore, to minimize the risk, the virus should be contained globally.
However, since the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared the pandemic on March 11, 2020, the only thing that has gone global is the lack of coordination – deliberately – to continue to enrich the richest, the big multinationals and in particular pharmaceutical laboratories.
And this despite the fact that Guterres claims that “vaccination for all is the fastest way to reopen the world economy”.
In recent months, the governments of major southern countries, such as India and South Africa, have asked the WTO to temporarily suspend patents related to the coronavirus, so that the drugs can be distributed more democratically and that vaccines can become good for humanity.
But the European Union has agreed with the governments of the United States and Britain to oppose the request, arguing it would discourage investment and innovation.
The defense of the pharmaceutical industry has been a historical strategy of developed countries and, in this case, there has been no exception.
The hacking of large pharmaceutical companies
Pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca – suppliers of the vaccine – did not reciprocate.
The announced delay and the reduction in vaccine deliveries did not please the European governments, which supported them with advances of several million dollars and purchase commitments of more than 1.3 billion doses.
Pharmaceutical companies not only aspired to prioritize the order of arrival of countries, ignoring signed contracts, but competition for vaccines spread over price.
Some publications claim that there are countries in the European Union that pay between $ 14 and $ 18 a dose, that the United States pays $ 19, and that Israel, which is one of the leaders in immunization, pays up to at $ 62.
Media have reported that Pfizer expects to charge 12 billion euros for the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021 alone. And if you take into account that pharmaceutical companies will retain exclusive rights for 10 or 20 years , depending on the case, the benefits are unimaginable.
The supply of vaccines in general and in particular to the European Union is well below the commitments agreed in the contracts. In this context, European leaders such as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and their Vice-President, Josep Borrell, have declared the need to maintain transparency on the fate of vaccines.
What about Latin America?
While opacity is a problem for citizens of the European Union, the confidentiality requirement of pharmaceutical companies in agreements with Latin American governments is alarming.
The aim is to remain silent on the absurd and abusive allegations made by companies in developing countries. But despite the secrecy, conditions leaked to the press or diplomatically escaped by senior government officials have revealed some gems.
In Argentina, Pfizer would have demanded as collateral “a new law with unenforceable assets that would include glaciers and fishing licenses”, according to an adviser to Axel Kicillof, the governor of the province of Buenos Aires. The inclusion of glaciers is not supposed to be due to climate change activism, but because water began to be marketed on Wall Street.
The Peruvian foreign minister was unable to give details of the contract “due to the confidentiality clause”, but admitted in an interview that the Peruvian government received Pfizer’s draft contract on 23 November. However, it could not be signed on the due date due to its content.
Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou told reporters that information on contracts with pharmaceutical companies would not be made public. He justified his statement by saying that “we had to choose between having a confidentiality contract or not having vaccines”.
In turn, the Brazilian Minister of Health declared that “the unfair and unfair terms established by the Pfizer laboratory create an obstacle to negotiation and purchase”.
In Colombia, several trade unions and civil society have denounced the refusal of the government of Ivan Duque to provide information on contracts.
These examples describe the pressures exerted by the pharmaceutical giants on weakened governments in developing countries.
And there is no reason to believe that similar demands have not spread to other countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, to the detriment of the Global South.
This behavior of large corporations, as if the world were their “backyard”, is precisely due to the absence of clear international rules to curb their greed.
In the face of these outrages, the UN Secretary General said the world needs strong multilateralism.
Enforcing contract confidentiality not only fosters the lion’s appetite in labs, but it is also an opportunity for some corrupt governments to take advantage of the opportunity to continue committing crimes.
The fragility of the planet in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, job losses, impoverishment and climate change were some of the issues raised by Guterres in his speech at the World Economic Forum.
He also evokes the possibility of a major geopolitical divide in the sectors led by the two powers (China and the United States), with two different currencies, and alludes to the widening of the North-South divide.
In a way, Guterres painted a picture that in many ways resembles that of 70 years ago.
The great achievement of neoliberalism has been to bring the world back to the days immediately following World War II, with a much weakened multilateralism and in which the United Nations sustainable development goals do not seem to be on the international agenda. .
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima