Protection of big pharma companies harms COVID response

Photo by Lucy Nicholson

Contributed by Joe Montero

As the world continues the effort to fight the COVID epidemic, there is a behind closed doors war going on. A war waged by big pharma with the support of governments. Fought over patent and intellectual property rights.

Donald Trump restricted the export of the AstraZeneca and other American vaccines. This was in line with the America First obsession. The effect was to create a market monopoly for American pharma companies. Joe Biden has mostly continued under this approach.

Photo by Salon/Getty: Donald Trump began the protection of pharma company control over COVID market

According to an article in the New York Times in March, the United States was sitting on “tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine”.

The world begun to react and called for a united effort. It included the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Major European Union nations played their own game and favoured their own pharma companies. They talked more about sharing. The problem is that this never materialised into practice.

The WHO’s COVID-19 Tools (ACT)-Accelerator program and supplies to facilitate its COVAX were blocked. The United States and other nations support the Washington approach, have really saying, protecting the commercial interests of pharma companies, is more important than saving lives.

Protection of pharma companies is a major reason for the shortage in the supply of vaccines and the poor rollout in many countries.

Australia is no exception. The Scott Morrison government opted to take the side of the American pharma companies from the beginning.

Most of the world was denied adequate help. As the death toll mounted, the call for change became louder. A global push for more cooperation gained traction. The United States found itself win the firing line and increasingly isolated.

The world began to turn for the Chinese Sinovac. Chinese assistance freely available and often for no charge. China has become the major supplier for Asia, African and Latin America. This poses a threat to American and European pharma companies.

Combined, these pressures led to a tactical change from Washington. American vaccines  would no longer be manufactured only in the United States.

Production facilities were to now be set up in recipient countries. This would leave control over production and the market in the hands of the pharma companies.

Australia goes all the way with the U.S.A.

Behind this shift is the incentive to side-track criticism and to counter the spread of the Chinese vaccine, at a time of economic and diplomatic war against that country.

The supply of vaccines to rich countries is the priority. This is where the greatest profit made.] by charging the premium price. Moderna is expected to rake in $19.2 billion this year from COVID-19 vaccines sales. Pfizer-BioNTech is expected $26 billion.

South Africa and India, backed by a large number of countries, and more than 400 public health organisations, have joined and called on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to back the following. They want a waiver on COVID related intellectual property rights in COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and medicine, including industrial designs, copyright, and trade secrets.

Washington has had to respond. A waiver for vaccines has been agreed to. There remains a refusal to shift on patents involving other treatments. Examples of exclusions are Remdesivir and various monoclonal antibodies, which have proved to be effective. Limitations are a backdoor way to keep on protecting the monopoly of the pharma companies.

Big Pharma is even pushing against this limited change. The industry formed the Bayh-Doyle Coalition last year, through Pharma funded research and scientific fronts, to press their interests on the United States government. It is pressing against the limited Biden changes.

Contrast the United States and Europe response with that of China and Russia. They offer effective vaccines and technology proven to be effective and do so with no strings.

It is important to keep on pressing for greater global cooperation and removal of access to COVID prevention and cures.

Australia would be much better off, shifting from the interests of the pharma companies, to and putting the health of people first.

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