COVID-19 – Co-operation not competition vital

26th June 2021

Vaccine equity – essential for poorer nations

Big Pharma drug firms, led by US companies Pfizer and Moderna, stand to make billions of dollars from their COVID-19 vaccines, boosted by the recent G7 pledge to vaccinate the entire world by the end of 2022, with the global market for the vaccines at an estimated $70 billion (£50 bn).  The G7 pledge to donate a billion doses to the international body Covax, by the end of the year, is still well short of the 11 billion doses the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates is need to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people over the same timescale.

Pfizer and Moderna alone, charging $30 per person for the necessary two shots, could make more than $50 bn in revenues.  Pfizer has already announced that it is likely to make $26 bn in 2021, a third of its annual revenue.  Moderna, funded by the US government to develop its vaccine, is expected to generate revenue of $19.2 bn this year.

The British-Swedish produced Astra Zeneca and the US based Johnson and Johnson have pledged to provide vaccines on a not for profit basis until the pandemic ends. However, even Johnson and Johnson are looking to generate $6.6 bn in revenue this year with a forecast $5.2 bn in sales forecast in 2021 for Astra Zeneca.

Latest data suggests that 2.5 billion doses of vaccine have been administered in 180 countries.  However, distribution is massively uneven, with higher income countries vaccinated 30 times faster than those with lowest incomes.

The campaign to waive patents is gathering some international momentum however.  Estimates suggest that the world’s population could be vaccinated at a cost of up to $25 bn (£18 bn) compared to the estimated $100 bn if drug firms maintain their current level of charges.

From 18th – 21st June a four day summit organised by Progressive International involved the national governments of Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela as well as the regional governments of Kisumu, Kenya and Kerala, India, alongside political leaders from 20 countries, healthcare workers, vaccine manufacturers and public health experts, to make concrete commitments to advance vaccine internationalism.

At the summit Cuba and Mexico offered their nationally developed vaccines in clinical trials, Cuba’s Soberana 2, Abdala, and Mambisa and Mexico’s Patria, to new partners to openly collaborate on vaccine trials and licensing. The offer of open, rather than exclusive, licensing is hugely significant. The majority of Covid-19 vaccines operate as full monopolies, and have not been offered to any other manufacturers to make. The minority of vaccines that have been offered to others, have been licensed on a limited or exclusive basis, such as AstraZeneca’s agreement with India’s Serum Institute, which shuts out other Indian manufacturers from making it.

It has been extensively reported that the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, which developed the vaccine, had originally intended to offer it to the world on an open license basis, but instead entered into an exclusive arrangement with AstraZeneca on the urging of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The summit also saw a pledge from Argentina to share the advanced regulatory capacities of ANMAT, Argentina’s state regulatory entity, to collect data on new vaccines and share this with countries throughout the region, including Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, to speed up the process of approval of vaccines.

Dr. Carla Vizzotti, Argentina’s Health Minister, committed to extending this facility to any country in need. She said,

“We have worked with Summit participants like Cuba and Mexico to synchronise our regulatory systems in order to facilitate stronger cooperation and enhance access of the entire population to vaccines, medicines and new technologies from a regulatory standpoint. Without a doubt, we extend this cooperation to all countries of the world – above all, those in the region of Africa. It’s a pleasure to be able to offer our regulatory capacity to the world.”

Countries at the summit with considerable production capabilities, Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela, pledged to increase manufacturing in order to produce enough doses to export to other countries.  Venezuela, in an official government paper tabled at the Summit, offered to lend its manufacturing industry to “ensure the distribution of supplies to the areas of greatest need at any given moment.”

The Progressive International plans to organise further meetings to provide a framework for the proposed integration of capacities and ongoing collaboration between participants, aimed at expanding the emerging alliance for vaccine internationalism.

Meanwhile the economic forecasts of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predict that the world economy is on course to bounce back from the pandemic.  This official optimism appears to be largely based upon the success of vaccination roll out in Europe, China and the United States.  However, even across Europe vaccine success is patchy and the Delta variant is gaining ground across the continent.

Without international co-operation, without a relaxation of patent exclusivity, without a real commitment to ensuring vaccine equity in the world’s poorer nations economic predictions will not be worth the paper they are printed on. 

The striving for market dominance and profit, endemic to the capitalist system, remains the greatest barrier to bringing the virus under control and ending the current pandemic.  The WHO has repeatedly stressed that no-one is safe until everyone is safe.  The fact remains that safety will only come from co-operation and not from competition, a concept the capitalist world struggles with, the result being thousands of unnecessary deaths worldwide.

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