G7 support for pharma monopolies is putting millions of lives at risk

Jun 14, 2021

The self-interest of G7 countries is the biggest obstacle to ending the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of campaigning organizations said today. Ahead of the G7 Leaders’ Summit, the People’s Vaccine Alliance warned that G7 promises to vaccinate the world by 2022 will be impossible to fulfill, if governments continue blocking proposals to waive patents and share life-saving technology.

Last year South Africa and India – also invited to this week’s summit in the UK – proposed waiving intellectual property rules to allow other countries to manufacture Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The proposal is supported by more than 100 states.

The English county of Cornwall, where the G7 Summit takes place, has administered more vaccinations than 22 African countries combined
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice

Of the G7 nations, only the US has explicitly supported waiving patents for vaccines – though not for treatments or diagnostics – and Japan has said it will not oppose the moves if they are agreed. Germany and the UK continue to vehemently oppose the plan, despite its potential to massively increase vaccine production and save millions of lives, while Canada, Italy and France remain on the fence.

“The English county of Cornwall, where the G7 Summit takes place, has administered more vaccinations than 22 African countries combined. This is just one example of how the failure to fight pharma monopolies has created staggering inequalities in vaccine access. This unconscionable failure of global leadership must be rectified immediately,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice.

“The path we are currently on does not benefit anybody. There is no way life can return to normal, anywhere, if people in just a handful of countries are vaccinated.  There will be no end in sight until rich countries stop hoarding vaccines, stop supporting pharma monopolies, and start facing up to their international obligations.”

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy lead, said:

“This week G7 leaders will talk about a global goal to vaccinate the whole world by the end of 2022.  But without commitments to waive intellectual property rules and share vaccine technology, this will simply not be possible.

“The G7 have a choice this week.  They can continue to defend the indefensible monopolies of pharmaceutical giants – or they can change course, and save millions of lives.”

The People’s Vaccine Alliance – a coalition of organizations including Amnesty International, Health Justice Initiative, Oxfam, Stop AIDS Campaign and UNAIDS – has calculated that if current trends continue, it will take the world’s poorest countries until 2078 to vaccinate their populations. Meanwhile G7 countries are on track to vaccinate their populations by January 2022. By the end of May 2021, 42% of people in G7 countries had received at least one vaccine dose, compared to less than 1% in low-income countries.

The G7 have a choice this week. They can continue to defend the indefensible monopolies of pharma giants – or they can change course, and save millions of lives
Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Lead

28% of the Covid-19 vaccines that had been delivered by the end of May were in G7 countries, which represent just 10% of the world’s population. The UK alone has administered nearly twice as many jabs than the entire African continent, despite its population being twenty times smaller.

Increased vaccine production blocked by richest nations

At the summit, G7 leaders are expected to announce plans to share some surplus doses with poorer countries, but this falls far short of what is needed.

Crucially, G7 countries – home to many of the largest vaccine manufacturers – have stood in the way of proposals to waive intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. Following a groundbreaking announcement by President Joe Biden in May, the US is currently the only G7 member which supports a waiver on vaccines. Germany and the UK remain fiercely opposed – as does the European Union as a bloc – while  Canada, Italy and France are undecided. Japan will not oppose the measures if they are agreed.

The vaccine is not even on the horizon for many at-risk groups in developing countries, including doctors and nurses who continue to risk their lives every day
Dinah Fuentesfina, Asia and Campaign Manager at ActionAid

There is also an urgent need for pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine technology and know-how, in order to support a massive increase in vaccine production. Vaccine developers have received over $100 billion in public funding. To date, not a single vaccine developer has agreed to participate in the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), which was set up over a year ago to facilitate the sharing of intellectual property and technology.

Instead, firms including Moderna and Pfizer are reaping huge profits, and nine new vaccine billionaires have been created.

Dinah Fuentesfina, Asia and Campaign Manager at ActionAid, said:

“G7 leaders  are currently making plans to start vaccinating teenagers. Meanwhile,  the vaccine is not even on the horizon for many of the most at-risk groups in developing countries, including doctors and nurses who continue to risk their lives every day.

“G7 leaders have an opportunity to be on the side of the millions of people who desperately need vaccines. We’re calling on the world’s richest countries to put everyone’s health above Big Pharma’s bottom line.”

COVAX in crisis

Meanwhile, the much-heralded COVAX initiative is in crisis. COVAX had distributed 77 million doses by the end of May, just a third of its target by that date. At its current rate of distribution, COVAX is on track to deliver just 250 million doses by the end of this year, equivalent to just 10% of the populations of poorer countries taking part. As a result, countries which relied on COVAX are rapidly running out of vaccines, and many people who received a first dose have no idea when or if they will receive a second one.

Any indication that the G7 will continue to rely on the ‘voluntary’ agreement of pharmaceutical corporations to do the right thing, should be judged as naïve deference to corporations
Fatima Hassan, Founder and Director of Health Justice Initiative in South Africa

This supply crisis is partly due to COVAX’s failure to use its huge leverage to challenge pharmaceutical monopolies, and partly because of its overreliance on supply of AstraZeneca vaccines from India, which are now being prioritized for domestic use. COVAX’s largest supplier recently announced it would not be able to deliver more vaccines until later in the year.

Donations from rich countries are urgently needed to help save COVAX, but they will not be enough on their own. The need for donations is a symptom of a broken system, where vaccines have been made artificially scarce and hugely expensive.

Fatima Hassan, Founder and Director of Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, said:

“Any indication that the G7 will continue to rely on the ‘voluntary’ agreement of pharmaceutical corporations to do the right thing, should be judged as naïve deference to corporations that are unelected, and who do not prioritize human rights and lives over profits.

“We have the power to end this pandemic – we have multiple, highly successful vaccines, and global mechanisms in place to deliver them. All that stands between us and ending Covid-19 are politics, vested interested and profits based on patents.”

A real solution

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is calling for the immediate waiving of intellectual property, sharing of technology, and financing for manufacturing worldwide.  Alliance members have done the detailed technical analysis that shows that 8 billion doses could be produced in a year, for as little as $25 billion dollars.

G7 leaders must:

  1. Agree a global goal to vaccinate 60% of the world by the end of 2021, with everyone reached in the next 12 months;
  2. Support the immediate suspension of intellectual property rules and enforce the transfer of vaccine technology to all qualified vaccine manufacturers in the world;
  3. Pay their fair share of the money needed to manufacture billions of doses as fast as possible, and support health systems and especially health workers, to ensure they get to every person, free of charge.
The path we are currently on does not benefit anybody. There is no way life can return to normal, anywhere, if people in just a handful of countries are vaccinated
Steve Cockburn

Background

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a worldwide movement of global and national organizations and activists united under a common aim of campaigning for a ‘People’s Vaccine’ that is available to all, everywhere, free of charge.

The Peoples Vaccine is supported by a host of world leaders, Nobel Laureates, scientists, and religious leaders including the Pope and the Dalai Lama. 2.7 million people have given their support to the aims of the campaign, and opinion polls have shown that 70% of the public in rich nations support the ending of Big Pharma monopolies.

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