How to get the Covid vaccine around the world
A health worker administers Covishield, the Serum Institute of India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, during a drive-through vaccination program in Kolkata, India on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 (AP Photo / Bikas Das)
It was a surprise and a welcome. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that masks and social distancing were no longer necessary for people who have been fully vaccinated. But the feeling of relief may be premature. The spread of the disease has declined sharply here, but around the world it is moving at breakneck speed and is having dire consequences for the United States as variants arise and threaten us. In India, only 3 percent of the population was inoculated. More … than 1,000 doctors died from Covid. Hospitals were invaded and corpses washed up on the banks of the Ganges. Even Italy, the first European nation to hit the virus, has fully vaccinated less than 6 percent of its population.
Immunizing the planet is the global public health priority.
So the question is, how do you put blows in the arms of 7.9 billion people? (Only 413 million people have been fully immunized, most of them in wealthy countries.) This month, the Biden administration announced it would make more than 500 million doses available to other countries, by donating prioritizing those who need it most.
It’s a huge move, but it still leaves a gap of an additional 8 to 10 billion doses, and that’s even without counting the reminders that might be needed if Covid drags on. Current vaccine makers, even big companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, haven’t the capacity produce enough vials on time to prevent more variants from appearing, which are more likely to grow in places where the virus is spread rapidly from person to person. The CEO of the Serum Institute of India, a biotechnology and pharmaceutical company that produces 60-70 percent by volume of vaccines in the world, predicts that at the current rate of world production, there will not be sufficient Covid vaccine to inoculate the world until 2024.
One way to achieve global immunization is to recruit generic vaccine manufacturers, most of whom are done outside the United States To this end, the White House supports emergency patent waivers. These waivers, to be granted by the World Trade Organization (WTO), would give generic manufacturers the legal right to produce vaccines without fear of litigation from the pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines and hold the patents.
the Popular Alliance for Vaccines, supported by organizations such as Oxfam, Public Citizen and UNAIDS, lobbies rich countries and the WTO not only to support waivers, but also to empower low- and middle-income countries to deliver vaccines to cost or free. The alliance argues that shared knowledge about vaccines should be “freely available to everyone and everywhere” as a global common good. The WTO has agreed to speed up discussion on waivers for Covid vaccines. This means that instead of patent waiver deliberations dragging on for years, the WTO could render a decision in a matter of months.
Unsurprisingly, most vaccine makers and their Republican allies are fiercely opposed to patent waivers, saying they go “against long-standing American values.” Several European leaders and even a few American liberals to oppose waivers and dismiss them as “symbolic”.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s largest trading group, claimed that patent waivers would deprive drug manufacturers of needed materials, flood the market with shoddy products, and remove the incentive to invent new ones. drugs. This last argument ridiculously ignores the contribution of the federal government. American taxpayers fund the majority of basic research devoted to drug and vaccine development. Over the past two years, the federal government has guaranteed multi-billion dollar payments to Moderna, Pfizer and others to purchase their vaccines, and government-funded research has been invaluable to the development of Covid vaccines. The pharmacy is also concerned that the waivers for Covid could set a precedent for patents being withdrawn quickly during global health crises. The People’s Vaccine Alliance and its signatories certainly hope that will be the case.
But patents are only half the battle towards global inoculation. Detailed instructions on how to make them are just as crucial as the right to make the vaccines. Generic manufacturers need “technology transfer”, precise information on chemical ingredients and vaccine manufacturing processes. The manufacture of mRNA vaccines involves building the genetic chain, the mRNA, and then wrapping it in a ball of fat so that it can enter the muscle without breaking down. It’s much trickier than making old-fashioned vaccines, which involve the growth of viruses in chicken eggs. Without the technology developed by patent holders, generics could take years to figure out how to do it.
If patent holders do not share their expertise, there are other ways to provide generic vaccine manufacturers with the necessary technology. The Biden administration could invoke laws that allow the president to force private companies to share information, such as the Defense Production Act (DPA), enacted during the Korean War to secure the supply of war materials. According to Peter Maybarduk, director of the Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, under the DPA, the president could require vaccine manufacturers to share their technology and train the staff of generic manufacturers.
In return, the vaccine makers would be compensated for what they share, taking into account the funding they have already received as part of Operation Warp Speed. The DPA also allows the Biden administration to pay vaccine manufacturers to reallocate facilities and produce Covid vaccines. Public Citizen estimates that 14 establishments could produce 8 billion vaccines within a year to 18 months for 25 billion dollars.
There is another way to transfer knowledge to generics manufacturers, says James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, which advocates for the public interest in intellectual property. His idea is for the federal government to buy licenses from vaccine manufacturers. Manufacturers of vaccines and drugs regularly enter into licensing agreements with other manufacturers, giving the licensee the information necessary to make the product and sell it, usually at a high price. For example, the British vaccine manufacturer Astra Zeneca has authorized its Covid vaccine at the Serum Institute of India to manufacture a billion doses.
Love wants rich countries to speed up vaccine manufacturing by buying licenses from vaccine patent holders. These licenses would then be granted to generic manufacturers and would include the necessary technology transfer. “Instead of begging people to do the right thing,” Love said, “why not offer the money?”
The fact that the U.S. government could end up paying vaccine makers for taxpayer-funded technology underscores one of the most egregious failures of Operation Warp Speed, which cost $ 18 billion in October: the plan to the Trump administration to rapidly develop a Covid vaccine never included compulsory licensing requirements to ensure vaccines would be available worldwide. Other countries, which funded their own vaccines, also did not insist on compulsory licenses.
President Biden has the opportunity to resolve this issue. In addition to his support for patent waivers, which will set a precedent for increasing global drug and vaccine manufacturing capacity during the next pandemic (and there will be a next pandemic), he may announce a plan to increase production. vaccine worldwide, either by invoking the DPA or by purchasing license rights. The alternative is to wait for patent holders to produce enough vaccines. With the rise of several variants of Covid-19, it will take years – and no one will be safe.