Will rich countries share vaccines or patents? 

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi  Published: Apr 27, 2021, 11:47 PM(IST)

Covid vaccine Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

America wants to send up to 60,000,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to different countries. When will that happen? After American regulators check the safety of the shots. It could take weeks and even months. So, there are no clear timelines. The world is not America's priority

After refusing to sell vaccine raw materials, the US is now trying to undo the damage.  President Joe Biden spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last night and promised to send emergency assistance. This includes oxygen supplies, vaccine materials and medicines. On Monday, an Air India flight picked up oxygen concentrators from New York.  

This is a welcome shift. Remember, America was reluctant to help. It changed, after it was slammed the world over. Not only for refusing to help India, but also for hoarding vaccines.  

America wants to send up to 60,000,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to different countries. When will that happen? After American regulators check the safety of the shots. It could take weeks and even months. So, there are no clear timelines. The world is not America's priority. So, why is it sharing vaccines at all? Because it's got too many of them, more than 550,000,000 excess doses. 

That's what you call hoarding. Countries like China and India exported more than 40 per cent of their supplies. Even the European Union had shared 42 per cent of its supplies. What about the United States? It exported zero shots. What about the United Kingdom? Again, zero.  

Countries like the US and the UK represent the global elite. The rich, who booked millions of doses well in advance. Now, they have extra vaccines, enough to inoculate their population three times and in some cases, five times. But they haven't shared anything with the world and they are making sure this system does not change. 

They won't share vaccines, or patents. Life-saving drugs have been locked in patents.  

Reports say during the phone call, Prime Minister Modi pressed President Biden about this. India has been pushing for a waiver on vaccine patents at the World Trade Organisation. The US and the UK have aggressively blocked this proposal, backing them are the European Union and Japan. 

After the phone call, a senior official of the Biden administration was asked if America will relent. Will the United States back a patent waiver? Team Biden said it has nothing to share on this front.

And it's not just governments who are putting patents over lives. Even individuals, who make up the global elite, are championing the cause of big pharma. The likes of Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist, believes vaccine formulas should not be shared with the developing world. On Sunday, Bill Gates was asked if it would be helpful for intellectual property protections to be lifted. He responded with an emphatic no.  

Because he fears that lifting patent rights even temporarily could comprise the safety of vaccines. Gates believes in keeping the circle tight, that ideas like moving production from a Johnson & Johnson factory to a facility in India are novel and they only happen 'because of our grants and expertise'. 

“There's only so many vaccine factories in the world and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. So, moving something that had never been done, moving a vaccine, say, from a (Johnson & Johnson) factory into a factory in India, it's novel, it's only because of our grants and expertise that can happen at all,” said Gates, who was toeing the line of big pharma.  

According to a report, every vaccine maker has its own secret recipes and supply chains, and they insist that no other approach is possible.  

This is exactly why the world is lagging behind in the global vaccination drive. It's because the supplies have been limited by design. Only a few companies are being allowed to make vaccines right now. More than one billion shots have been administered so far. 87 per cent of these have gone to rich countries. One in four people in wealthy countries have got a jab. What about the poor countries? Just one in 500 have got a shot in these nations.  

According to a report, only 0.2 per cent of the doses made so far have been dispensed to low-income countries. This is not just a question of inequity. This strategy will come back to bite the rich, because at this rate, the pandemic will take years to end. And if it doesn't end in the poor countries, it won't end in the rich ones either as this virus mutates and jumps borders.  

Around 185,00,000 doses are being administered daily around the world. At this pace, it would take at least 19 more months to inoculate 75 per cent of the world population, which means extending this pandemic for at least two more years. If the world wants to end this pandemic, it must end vaccine patents first. 

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