While a third vaccine dose is being administered in Europe, patents deny other countries access to the vaccine. The latest virus variant shows how dangerous that is. The lifting of vaccine patents has never been more urgent.
The discovery of the latest Covid variant pushed the stock prices of Pfizer and Moderna up considerably. Pfizer saw its stock close to 6.1 percent higher, about an additional $17.5 billion in market value. Competitor Moderna even saw its shares rise by 21 percent. A virus variant as a business opportunity. That’s highly cynical for more than one reason. After all, it is precisely the patents of Big Pharma that make new variants more likely.
Patents protect vaccine technology from other countries and companies. That limits vaccine production and increases global shortages. Pharma shareholders will benefit greatly, as witnessed by the mega-profits of Pfizer, Moderna and co. Up to $1,000 a second, the People’s Vaccine Alliance calculated. But they are at the expense of global health.
In poor countries, barely three percent of the population is fully vaccinated. By 2023, most countries in Africa and the Middle East will not have sufficient vaccination coverage. These vaccine shortages facilitate virus circulation and breeding grounds for new virus variants. The Omicron variant shows how urgently this needs to change.
Therefore, India and South Africa, supported by a broad coalition, have been asking for a year that the World Trade Organization (WTO) cancel patents and share the technology as widely as possible. This would make it possible to activate unused production capacity and create new production units within a few months. In addition, such an open-source approach could allow researchers around the world to work on adapting the vaccine to new variants. That’s the idea behind initiatives like the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).
The WTO had to make the decision this week. At the last minute, however, the summit was postponed. Officially for health reasons, but the fear of failure due to lack of consensus also played a part. Because although the United States has also taken the plunge in the meantime, the European Commission, under pressure from certain member states, is obstructing.
In addition to Germany, Belgium also plays an important role in the European veto against the suspension of patents. At the expense of world health, Prime Minister De Croo turned out to be one of the most ardent defenders of patents and pharmaceutical profits in Europe.