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Pharma monopolies must share know-how of Covid vaccine to end pandemic

Shining Editorial || shiningbd

Published: 19:43, 3 May 2021   Update: 19:47, 3 May 2021
Pharma monopolies must share  know-how of Covid vaccine to end pandemic

Representational photo Bigstock

To wit, the severity of the COVID-19 and its detrimental human tragedy has led global community to urge that the products for the ‘prevention and treatment’ of Covid-19 should be considered as “global public goods.”

Across the globe, therefore, governments, human rights advocates and aid groups, as well as World Health Organization, are calling on pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge and patent information more broadly to meet the soaring global shortfall of vaccines in a pandemic that already has claimed over 2.5 million lives.

All over the world, the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is falling far short of demand, and the limited amount available is going to the ‘developed’ countries. Nearly 80% of the vaccines so far have been administered in just 10 countries, according to WHO.

More than 140 countries and territories with 2.5 billion people hadn’t received a single shot as of the first week of March, reports Associated Press. Hence, WHO called for vaccine manufacturers to share their know-how to “dramatically increase the global supply to stop the virus before it mutates into even deadlier forms.”

Responding to the human disaster associated with drug monopolies of some pharmaceutical companies, Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice Programme, argued, “Having already sold most of its potential 2021 vaccine supply to rich countries, Moderna must follow through on its promise to allow others to make the vaccine, and provide the knowledge and technology to do so, once the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective.

Companies like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have a responsibility to respect human rights, and they should play a leading role towards a global solution to COVID-19. We can only put an end to COVID-19 if companies ensure that those most in need of life-saving vaccines are not left behind.

It’s time for companies to live up to their human rights responsibilities and ensure the widest possible access to their innovations.” The supply of safe and effective vaccines for all is being ‘artificially rationed’ because of the protection of exclusive rights and monopolies of pharmaceutical corporations, the People’s Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) said in utter grief on February 5, 2021.

GAVI further warned that the three biggest vaccine companies, naming – Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, in the world are largely sitting on the sidelines - they currently plan to produce enough COVID19 vaccines for only 1.5 per cent of the global population in 2021.

One year on from the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the People’s Vaccine Alliance, hence, apprehends that developing countries are facing critical shortages of oxygen and medical supplies to cope with COVID-19 cases yet the majority have been unable to administer a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In sharp contrast, developed nations have vaccinated their citizens at a rate of one person per second over the last month. Many of these developed states, including the US, UK and EU, are blocking a proposal by over 100 developing countries to be discussed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on March 11, 2021 which would 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.

In the face of worldwide vaccine shortages, GAVI urged pharma monopolies should remove the artificial barriers to tackling the global supply crisis, which include the suspending intellectual property rules, sharing technology and ending monopoly control, so that everyone, everywhere has access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.

Otherwise, it will cost thousands of lives and prolong the economic pain which is hitting the poorest hardest.” A recent OXFAM Report estimates, more than 108 million people have been vaccinated so far, but only 4 per cent of total vaccinations have been in developing countries. Of the poorest countries in the world only Guinea has been able to vaccinate only 55 people.

On the other hand, developed countries have bought up enough doses to vaccinate their populations three times over, leaving developing countries to compete for the leftovers, the report entails. More importantly, pharmaceutical monopolies are thwarting the potential capacity of capable pharmaceuticals of the developing states to produce COVID-19 vaccine by putting ‘artificial barriers and patent issues.’

For instance, The Serum Institute of India is already producing hundreds of millions of vaccines for COVID-19 on behalf of AstraZeneca and Novovax as well as developing their own, but there are at least 20 more vaccine manufacturers in India which are capable of producing vaccines if they know the ‘know-how and technology.’

Another such kind of capable institution is Incepta plant in Bangladesh, which already makes vaccines against hepatitis, flu, meningitis, rabies, tetanus and measles. It is one of three factories that The Associated Press found on three continents whose owners say they could start producing hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines on short notice if only they had the blueprints and technical know-how.

Abdul Muktadir, the chief executive of Bangladeshi pharmaceutical maker Incepta, said his institution has enough capacity to fill vials for 600 million to 800 million doses of coronavirus vaccine a year to distribute throughout Asia.

Like Incepta, there are many other vaccine producers in developing and developed countries which may have the capacity to manufacture proven safe and effective vaccines if they had the know-how and intellectual property licenses.

To conclude, global pandemic needs global solution, and global solution demands global cooperation. Thus, the uplifting of ‘artificial barriers’, end of profit-driven monopolies and the sharing of the ‘know-how’ - is the ‘far cry’ of the millions of people around the world to put an end to the greatest human disaster of the 21st century – Covid-19 pandemic.

Shiningbd/Mb