On 2nd October India and South Africa proposed to the World Trade Organization (WTO the release of patents for drugs and vaccines against covid-191. The objective of this measure is rapid access to affordable medical products to combat the pandemic in all countries of the world due to a global solution is required. The idea of universalizing the vaccine has the support of 99 of the 164 countries of the WTO2. Among the countries blocking this measure are some of the richest in the world: Australia, Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union including Spain. Faced with this debate the WTO has decided to postpone its decision3.
The reasons given for rejecting the patent release are various. On the one hand it is alleged that theTrade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) already include methods to make access to these treatments more flexible as stated by the Secretary of State for Commerce to the Público newspaper4. On other occasions as in a recent opinion column in the New York Times newspaper5, it is explained how “researchers develope vaccines in record time because they have the security and resources that come with a robust system for protecting their intellectual property” and it is even mentioned how certain companies such as AstraZeneca will manufacture their vaccines for non-profit purposes.
Thereforethe solution offered to the problem is to depend on the goodwill of pharmaceutical companies or countries. Vaccine prices vary, depending on each company6, between € 1.78 for AstraZeneca to € 12 per dose for Pfizer-BioNTech or € 14.68 for Moderna prices clearly unattainable for poor countries. According to a study by the Duke Global Health Innovation Center7, high- and middle-income countries have already purchased almost 3.8 billion doses out of a total of 6.8 billion, meaning that half of existing vaccines are already sold.Countries like the US have bought vaccines for 230% of their population while India or Brazil have only been able to get vaccines for the half of their inhabitants8. European governments have already announced that they will donate a portion to developing countries but again this will depend on the goodwill of European countries.
The problem of this selective distribution of the vaccine goes beyond the lack of democracy in the treatment of the pandemic. According to a study by Northeastern University9, access to the vaccine could be linked to mortality from coronavirus worldwide including rich countries. If the 50 richest countries buy the first 2 billion doses deaths from coronavirus would be reduced a 33%; If it is distributed according to the number of inhabitants and not by their purchasing power that percentage would rise to 61%.
This month the World Trade Organization (WTO) will debate the possibility of suspending patents on covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests for the duration of the pandemic. Therefore we have to make pressure from civil society to show the hypocrisy of the countries and force that the lives of people be prioritized and not business interests.
1 https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/IP/C/W669.pdf&Open=True 2 https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1e7xeGH0ANcEe8qGo5VGOp1DwuV8BaXmO 3 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-wto/wto-delays-decision-on-waiver-on-covid-19-drug-vaccine-rights-idUSKBN28K2WL 4 https://www.publico.es/sociedad/vacuna-covid-espana-rechaza-supresion-patentes-permitiria-paises-pobres-acceder-vacunas-covid.html 5 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/opinion/coronavirus-vaccine-patents.html 6 https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2020/12/21/la-revelation-du-prix-des-vaccins-embarrasse-l-industrie-et-la-commission-de-bruxelles_6064092_3210.html 7 https://dukeghic.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2020/11/COVID19-Vax-Press-Release__28Oct2020-1.pdf 8 https://launchandscalefaster.org/covid-19#Interactive%20tables%20and%20charts%20-%20COVID-19%20Vaccine%20Advance%20Market%20Commitments 9 https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/09/14/if-rich-countries-monopolize-covid-19-vaccines-it-could-cause-twice-as-many-deaths-as-distributing-them-equally/