Pfizer and BioNTech announced the success of their vaccine candidate against Covid-19 in a first interim analysis from their phase 3 study in the second week of November. PSI calls for the waiver of intellectual property rights as put forward to the WTO by the governments of South Africa and India.
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The study which enrolled 43,538 participants, including 94 confirmed cases found the vaccine to be more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19.
And wealthy countries have already started hoarding the breakthrough vaccine. The two companies have already struck bilateral deals with rich countries that can conveniently pay, to provide them with more than one billion doses of the vaccine. The corporations’ projection of total supply is 50m doses in 2020 and 1.3billion in 2021. But rich countries have already ordered more than 1billion doses. The EU and just five countries account for almost half a billion doses.
A Covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people’s vaccine.
Speaking earlier in June, Antonio Guterrres, the United Nations Secretary-General stressed that “a Covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people’s vaccine”. Vaccine nationalism being demonstrated by the wealthy countries, and for-profit interests of the corporations concerned means that this will not be the case with the recent breakthrough, if decisive steps are not taken to stop this nauseating situation.
Every country is impacted by the pandemic. But poor countries will not be able to access the new vaccine as things stand presently. This will however affect the whole world. The continued scourge of Covid-19 anywhere is a threat of further spread of infection everywhere in the world. Vaccine nationalism is a short-sighted response to a global problem.
For Pfizer and BioNTech, the bottom line is profit. The Germany-based, Nasdaq listed BioNTech’s shares have skyrocketed by over 230% in value since it announced commencement of work on the vaccine candidate earlier in the year. And in that period, its owners Ugui Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, who are husband and wife, have joined the ranks of the top 100 richest people in Germany.
With over 45 million confirmed cases and more than 1.2 million deaths, the Covid-19 pandemic is an existential crisis for humankind.
But BioNTech could not have made this breakthrough for itself and Pfizer without public funding. The German government gave more than $444m to the company to accelerate the development of its vaccine program in September. And now the two corporations are looking at making $13bn in profits from the vaccine. This is unacceptable.
Like other corporations, neither Pfizer nor BioNTech signed up for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-Tap). Under C-Tap, pharmaceutical companies are supposed to voluntarily share technology, data, and property rights to enable universal and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer described C-Tap as “nonsense” when it was launched in May.
What is actually nonsensical is for corporations to put profit before people and for wealthy countries to support this in any manner. With over 45 million confirmed cases and more than 1.2 million deaths, the Covid-19 pandemic is an existential crisis for humankind. It emphasises the need for a global response and building back which puts people over profit.
United Nations Human Rights experts put the situation in clear perspective thus:
We call for the waiver of intellectual property rights as put forward to the WTO by the governments of South Africa and India.
"In our capacity as UN human rights experts, we emphasise that a global pandemic of this scale and human cost, with no clear end in sight, requires a concerted, principled and courageous response. All efforts to prevent, treat and contain Covid-19 must be based on the bedrock human-rights based principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance. There is no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines, essential tests and treatments, and all other medical goods, services and supplies that are at the heart of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all."
We fully share this view and call for the waiver of intellectual property rights as put forward to the World Trade Organization by the governments of South Africa and India. This is the time for all trade unions, civil society organisations, historically-minded governments and well meaning persons to stand up with one voice and insist on a People’s Vaccine. We must put all the pressure we can muster on Pfizer, BioNTech and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, to ensure that effective and safe Covid-19 vaccines are made “available to all, everywhere, free of charge”.