- BBC World News
Rich countries, including the United Kingdom, are blocking proposals to help developing nations to increase their vaccine manufacturing capacities, according to documents leaked to the BBC Newsnight program.
Several poor countries have turned to the World Health Organization (WHO) for help to increase their capacity to produce vaccines.
But the richest nations are rejecting the provisions of international law that would allow them to do so.
This according to a leaked copy of the negotiating text of a WHO resolution on the matter.
Among the richest nations resisting are the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Uniona.
“Where we can have a language that makes it easier for nations to produce more vaccines and more medicines within their country, we must include initiatives that finance and facilitate it. The UK is on the opposite side of the argument, of trying to eliminate that kind of progressive proposals from the text, “says Diarmaid McDonald of Just Treatment, a group of patients who campaign for fair access to medicines.
A UK government spokesperson notes that “a global pandemic requires a global solution and the UK is leading from the front, driving efforts to ensure equitable access worldwide to covid vaccines and treatments.”
The spokesperson states that UK is one of the largest donors to international efforts to ensure that more than 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines reach developing countries this year.
Long time no see
Now, the question of whether governments should intervene to ensure affordable supplies of drugs is a long-standing problem.
But the pandemic has revealed the ability of different countries to obtain vaccines and medicines.
Many experts say that equitable access to vaccines is essential to prevent cases and deaths and contribute to the immunity of the world’s population.
But global capacity to produce vaccines is about a third of what is needed, says Ellen t’Hoen, an expert on drug policy and intellectual property law.
“These are vaccines that are produced in rich countries and, in general, are kept in those rich countries,” he explains.
“Developing nations are saying we need to have a slice of the pie, not just the slice of vaccines, but also the slice of the right to produce these vaccines“, he adds.
To make a vaccine, you not only need to have the right to produce the substance of which it is composed (which is protected by patents), you also need to have the knowledge on how to make them because the technology can be complex.
The WHO does not have the authority to avoid patents, but is trying to get countries to come together to find a way to beef up vaccine supplies.
Discussions include the use of stipulations of international law to circumvent patents and help countries to have the technical capacity to create vaccines.
But the pharmaceutical industry argues that patent erosion would hamper its ability to invest in future treatments for COVID and other diseases.
Earlier this month, representatives of the US pharmaceutical industry wrote to President Joe Biden to share their concerns.
“Removing those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic“, they wrote,” including ongoing efforts to address new variants. “
It would also create confusion that could undermine public confidence in vaccine safety and create a barrier to information sharing, representatives said.
“The most important thing is that removing the protections would not speed up production,” they added.
Others agree. Anne Moore, an expert in vaccine immunology, fears that if patents are released this could have an impact on future research.
“Over time we have seen fewer and fewer organizations and commercial companies involved in the field of vaccines because there are so few benefits,” he explains.
Pharmaceutical companies say they have also made financial donations and given drugs to help fight the pandemic.
But activists argue that around US $ 125,000 million of public money They have been devoted to the development of covid treatments and vaccines, so the public should have a stake.
Once the pandemic is over, they argue, you can earn a lot of money.
“It is obvious that there are longer-term plans to increase the price of these vaccines once the most urgent phase of the pandemic is over,” says t’Hoen.
“So that’s another reason that developing countries are saying that we need to acquire the capacity to produce these vaccines ourselves now,” he adds.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.