Vaccines, patents and the common good – 23/02/2021 – Opinion

In the face of the Covid-19 apocalypse, vaccines are certainly a hope. But until we find a treatment, this pandemic can last for a long time. Therefore, new vaccines, new tests and drugs will be needed. Today, a few giants in the pharmaceutical industry dominate manufacturing, decide the price and destination of immunizers. This configuration makes access time-consuming and expensive.

Leaving the production and commercialization of essential medicines in the hands (or in the wallet) of some industries is not just a market problem, it is a dangerous and unfair condition.

Dangerous because, until we vaccinate a significant part of the world population, the virus will continue to kill and mutate. The longer and the more infected, the more deaths and more random mutations will happen. Imagine our reaction if, one day, a mutation makes Covid lethal for young people and children. Why wait for that day? In the name of which major principle would we accept to take that kind of risk?

The market monopoly and the consequent shortage of vaccines are injustices. In addition to favoring the richest and speculation, poverty is trivializing the hierarchy of human beings among the elderly and young, workers and unemployed, health personnel against teachers, vaccinated against non-vaccinated, etc. For the coronavirus, we are all the same. We are all in the same boat as the pandemic flood.

Note that Western vaccine patents come from small biotechnology startups subsidized by state funds and allied to certain universities. In 2020, major industries purchased these patents and funded clinical trials with public money. For what little is known, the European Union and the US alone have poured around 40 billion euros into five Western industries in the form of aid and pre-orders. To those concerned with “intellectual property”, I ask: how much of this money goes to research centers that develop technology and what is the share of benefits from manufacturers? Nobody knows, but each one imagines.

Typically, a patent for a drug grants 20 years of commercial exclusivity before the drug goes into the public domain, in the form of a generic. This conventional practice does not correspond to the seriousness of the unprecedented situation that we are going through. We all know that we will not be able to pay or wait 20 years to benefit from each new antiCovid patent.

This system is opaque, unfair and unsustainable.

There are cheaper and more just ways to guarantee the common good. In the early 1960s, Albert Sabin simply renounced his patent rights to the polio vaccine so that it would be distributed at low cost worldwide.

Any citizen under the age of 60 should be indebted to Sabin for the eradication of this terrible disease. The important thing is to give free access to the purchase and use of patents, without exclusivity, both to public and private entities, and rewarding research. This is even what the World Trade Organization “compulsory license” rule provides.

Recently, a request in this regard from almost 100 countries has been denied by countries such as the USA, the European Union and, inexplicably, Brazil. Releasing patents is no revolution. We have done this in the past. Countries like India and Brazil have challenged exclusivity and “broken” patent monopolies on various drugs sold at exorbitant prices in the fight against AIDS. Result: thousands of lives were saved and no manufacturer went bankrupt.

Health is a common good, a right of every human being and a duty of government officials. Donations and international charity will not be enough. It is necessary to increase vaccine production to the maximum and rapidly worldwide to make them accessible to everyone.

Let us be human, let us be pragmatic. Arguments such as “defense of intellectual property” or “rules of the market” are pure speculative ideology, out of context, and which cannot be sustained in the face of the global catastrophe that continues and plagues us. There is no shortage of alternatives; lack of conviction and courage to act for the common good. But until when?


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