Rich nations – including the United States, United Kingdom and European Union countries – are blocking a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that seeks to help poorer countries get vaccines faster.
According to a press release by Oxfam, over 100 developing countries proposed to override the monopolies held by pharmaceutical companies and allow an urgently needed scale-up in the production of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to ensure poorer countries get access to the doses they desperately need.
The People's Vaccine Alliance – a group of campaigning organisations including Oxfam, Frontline AIDS, UNAIDS, Global Justice Now, and the Yunus Centre – warned that the majority of developing countries have been unable to administer a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine while rich nations have vaccinated their citizens at a rate of one person per second over the last month.
However, on 10-11 March, more than 100 developing countries – led by South Africa and India – will again make the case at the WTO for a waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), which would remove legal barriers for more countries and manufacturers to produce the vaccines, protect their people and join the economic recovery ahead, said the press release.
Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, one of the leaders of the People's Vaccine Alliance said, "For the rich world, this proposed act of human solidarity to ensure that medicines and vaccines get to the whole human family simultaneously is in their self-interest, not just an act of charity."
"We should act now. There is no going back. It is unfair that rich countries, who have enough vaccines to protect their citizens, are blocking the TRIPS waiver, which could help poorer countries get the vaccines they need," he added.
According to the Oxfam press release, only 3% of people in poor countries can hope to be vaccinated by mid-year, and only one fifth at best by the end of 2021.
Almost one million people worldwide have signed a call by the People's Vaccine Alliance for rich nations to stop protecting big pharma monopolies and profits over people's lives. On 11 March, protests will take place outside pharmaceutical headquarters as part of a global day of action by activists across the world.
Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, said, "By allowing a small group of pharmaceutical companies to decide who lives and who dies, rich nations are prolonging this unprecedented global health emergency and putting countless more lives on the line. At this crucial time. Developing countries need support – not opposition."
"Around the world, two-and-a-half million lives have already been lost due to this brutal disease and many countries are battling without adequate medical care and vaccines," she added.
The Alliance said that history is in danger of repeating itself in South Africa, Malawi and other African nations. Millions of people died in the early 2000s because pharmaceutical monopolies had priced successful treatments for HIV/AIDS out of reach at up to $10,000 a year.
According to the press release, all the leading vaccine developers have benefited from billions of dollars in public subsidies, yet pharmaceutical corporations have been handed the monopoly rights to produce and profit from them.
"At the same time, qualified vaccine producers all over the world stand ready to produce more vaccines if they were allowed access to the technology and know-how now being held under lock and key by these companies. New capacity could be brought on stream within months," said Oxfam.
Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, producer of one of the first approved vaccines, said that with the blueprint and technical advice, a modern factory should be able to produce vaccines in at most three to four months.
So far, France has called for the expansion of production in developing countries, and the US has moved to achieve the same domestically. But both countries continue to defend the monopolies of pharma corporations.