May 3, 2021

The West Has Been Hoarding More Than Vaccines

By Walden Bello

1,259 words

The West has hoarded vaccines and blocked developing nations from making their own. President Biden can put a stop to that.

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Refreshed on May 13, 2021 at 3:49:27 pm

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May 13, 2021 at 3:49 pm CHANGED
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- I’ve had my first Covid-19 vaccine jab, drawn from the limited supply of the AstraZeneca doses that has made its way to the developing world. As a senior, I’m part of a so-called priority sector eligible to receive it in the Philippines, a country where less than 0.3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — versus 32 percent in the United States. I’m one of the lucky ones.
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+ MANILA — I’ve had my first Covid-19 vaccine jab, drawn from the limited supply of the AstraZeneca doses that has made its way to the developing world. As a senior, I’m part of a so-called priority sector eligible to receive it in the Philippines, a country where less than 0.3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated — versus 32 percent in the United States. I’m one of the lucky ones.
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- Globally, more than 1.16 billion doses of Covid vaccine have been administered as of May 3. Over 80 percent have gone to people in high- or upper-middle-income countries and only 0.2 percent to those in low-income countries like the Philippines. At present, India is suffering from a devastating surge of the virus, with over 350,000 infections and 3,000 deaths daily recorded over the past few days. (These figures most likely undercount the full extent of the horror.) Only 2 percent of its people have been fully vaccinated. While President Biden’s recent deployment of aid to India is commendable, fresh supplies and 60 million potentially spoiled doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will not solve the problem.
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+ Globally, more than 1.16 billion doses of Covid vaccine have been administered as of Monday. Over 80 percent have gone to people in high- or upper-middle-income countries and only 0.2 percent to those in low-income countries like the Philippines. At present, India is suffering from a devastating surge of the virus, with over 350,000 infections and 3,000 deaths daily recorded over the past few days. (These figures most likely undercount the full extent of the horror.) Only 2 percent of its people have been fully vaccinated. While President Biden’s recent deployment of aid to India is commendable, fresh supplies and 60 million potentially spoiled doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will not solve the problem.
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  On April 23, a group of 24 NGOs, including the Citizens Trade Campaign and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, issued a petition calling on Mr. Biden to embrace one potential solution: to back the temporary suspension of a set of intellectual-property provisions that prevent developing nations’ access to the technology needed to make their own versions of Western-made Covid-19 vaccines available as quickly as possible.
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  These provisions make up the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as Trips, which strictly enforces patent monopolies for a minimum of 20 years. This change may sound like technocratic legalese. But its impact would be straightforward: A short-term Trips waiver would allow developing nations to quickly ramp up vaccine production and save lives at an affordable cost, as Public Citizen explains.
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  When the W.T.O. General Council meets on Wednesday, Mr. Biden should not be deterred by its wishes. Instead, he must use his considerable sway over the organization to persuade other rich nations to support a Trips waiver.
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  Since India and South Africa first proposed the idea of a Trips waiver last October, the drug industry has protested. In March, 31 pharmaceutical-industry executives, including Albert Bourla of Pfizer and Pascal Soriot of AstraZeneca, sent a letter to Mr. Biden urging him to uphold the Trump administration’s opposition to the Trips waiver. They claimed that under current estimates, manufacturers will produce 10 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year, “enough to vaccinate the entire current global vaccine eligible population.”
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- Yet notable critics like Joseph Stiglitz and Jayati Ghosh, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, see woefully insufficient production by Western drug companies as a major roadblock to universal vaccination. Even now, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and others are struggling to meet their commitments to rich countries like the United States, which seeks to maintain an excess stock of the vaccine. At current rates, the bulk of the population of developing countries might not be inoculated until the end of 2024. Such a protracted process would add millions more to the ranks of the 152 million who, as of May 3, have already been infected and the 3.2 million who have died of the virus.
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+ Yet notable critics like Joseph Stiglitz and Jayati Ghosh, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, see woefully insufficient production by Western drug companies as a major roadblock to universal vaccination. Even now, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and others are struggling to meet their commitments to rich countries like the United States, which seeks to maintain an excess stock of the vaccine. At current rates, the bulk of the population of developing countries might not be inoculated until the end of 2024. Such a protracted process would add millions more to the ranks of the 152 million who, as of Monday, have already been infected and the 3.2 million who have died of the virus.
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  That Trips has become a battleground between Big Pharma and global public health advocates is no surprise. During the W.T.O.’s creation in 1995, the industry took the leading role in formulating the agreement. Since countries could not join the W.T.O. without signing on to 60 separate agreements, developing countries with misgivings about Trips had little choice but to agree to it. Without the protection afforded by the W.T.O.’s international legal trade regime, countries like Rwanda or Indonesia could have been subjected to arbitrary tariffs, trade boycotts and other punitive measures imposed by trading partners in the event of trade disputes.
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  Decades before the W.T.O. and Trips came into being, companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson enjoyed the protection of restrictive intellectual property rules. Via Trips, they sought to impose the same rules on developing countries, whose more liberal laws had allowed for the production of more affordable, duplicate versions of their drugs. Trips reversed the situation, slowing the diffusion of pharmaceutical know-how in developing countries, grounding innovation to a halt and elevating drug prices.

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Headlines

  • The West Has Been Hoarding More Than Vaccines

Tags

  • Biden, Joseph R Jr
  • Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
  • Drugs (Pharmaceuticals)
  • India
  • International Trade and World Market
  • Inventions and Patents
  • Third World and Developing Countries
  • United States
  • United States Politics and Government
  • Vaccination and Immunization
  • World Trade Organization