Nine out of ten people in developing countries will not receive the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021. This finding is the alarming voice of several sectors that have supported the demand for the temporary release of the intellectual property rights of vaccines to immunize the world’s population against the Covid-19 virus.
According to information from the World Health Organization, on April 19, the world had more than 140 million cases of contagion by Covid-19 and three million deaths. Of these, nearly half occurred in the Americas, with the United States (561,611 deaths), Brazil (371,678) and Mexico (212,228) leading the way.
At the same time, 792,796,083 doses of vaccines were administered to fight the virus, which equates to more than one in ten people in the world. But it gets worse when you look at how these doses were distributed.
According to the WHO Director-General, 87% of doses were given in rich countries, while 0.2% of the population in low-income countries received some doses. Latin America, which says it needs 500 million doses to vaccinate its population, will receive – via Covax – just under 380,000 doses by the end of April.
Only a few countries have a level greater than 10% of their population with at least one dose: Chile (66.58 doses per 100 inhabitants), Uruguay (36.48), Brazil (15.24), Argentina (13.48) and Panama (12.7). Meanwhile, countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras don’t even reach 1 dose per 100 people.
The world not only needs more doses to be produced, but they also need to reach all corners of the planet at the same time and under conditions that make the vaccination of the entire population effective. In this sense, the joint access to technologies against Covid-19 (C-TAP), launched by the WHO with the government of Costa Rica and co-sponsored by 40 other states united in the call for collaborative action, is positioned as a promising option.
This call urges governments, funding bodies, businesses and the scientific community to voluntarily share knowledge, intellectual property and data related to Covid-19 health technology. Despite its possible usefulness in the economic and health sphere, but also for international governance, so far, no pharmaceutical company that has approved one of the vaccines to fight the pandemic has adhered to this mechanism.
On the other hand, India and South Africa have launched a process at the WTO to request an exemption from certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights for prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19. The small group of rich countries that dominate the world when it comes to immunization is opposed: the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the European Union itself.
It is not difficult to unveil the interests behind this position. For example, out of the 10 most popular pharmaceutical companies in the world in 2019, five are American (Pfizer, Abbott, Merck, Celgene and Abbvie), two Swiss (Roche and Novartis), one German (Bayer), one French (Sanofi) and an English (Gsk).
At the same time, a recent study published in The Lancet shows that the public sector and philanthropy – with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the helm – have contributed at least more than $ 10 billion to vaccine research and development. Covid -19.
More than 83% of this funding was concentrated in five vaccines whose common denominator is the presence of the US government as a funder for each of them. In addition, the study confirms, in the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine, that the pharmaceutical industry has contributed only 3% of the 120 million euros invested in its development.
Recently, a group of former presidents and Nobel laureates urged the current President of the United States to support the suspension of intellectual property rights for the production of Covid-19 vaccines.
Added to this are the results of a survey in the same country, in which 60% of those consulted – of different ideological orientations – expressed their agreement with such a suspension. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, expressed the same opinion.
One of the main arguments against liberalizing intellectual property rights to vaccines is that vaccines – and ultimately health – are viewed as a consumer good.
However, the Covid-19 vaccine must be viewed as a global public good, as the UN Secretary-General has said. Following this premise and under the slogan “the vaccine of the people”, the international personalities recommend a massive production, available in the world, of all the countries and free.
Now, in a world of “save who can” – where first and foremost, of course, the rich are saved – why should we expect the big pharmaceutical companies to act in a collaborative and supportive manner? There is also a question mark over the role and what can be expected of philanthropic foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which have funded billions of dollars for vaccine development.
The responsibility for what is done or not done, as well as the possibility of changing the course of the pandemic, lies with states and their ability to make sense – and be content – with global collaborative mechanisms, such as Covax and C-TAP. They must have a global consensus on the importance of safeguarding the lives of the inhabitants of the planet on the maintenance of the rules of the market.
www.latinoamerica21.com, a pluralist media engaged in the dissemination of critical and truthful information about Latin America.