Day 419: Vaccinating the world needs a talk first

07/05/2021

Day 419: Vaccinating the world needs a talk first

By the 419th day of the pandemic, there’s a raging debate about IP on vaccines and how to speed up production. 

Industry associations, the EU and almost other influential trade bodies that matter in agreement that IP is not the issue in the current crisis. A common view is that the idea that IP is the barrier to making more vaccine is ludicrous. Other views range from ‘you can’t do it’ to ‘it is pointless (and stupid)’. Vaccine production is complex and involves advanced manufacturing processes. At the same time it is the same big cluster of companies located in EU and North America that have shifted several manufacturing processes to Asia and the Asia-Pacific lock, stock and barrel. The debate is verging towards convenience.

There is little evidence that IP sharing will help. The trouble is that there is little evidence on the other side as well – that IP sharing will not help. The ingredients and supply chain are the bottlenecks. No manufacturer anywhere in the world is naive enough to not know these constraints to manufacturing.

The views on why IP sharing is not okay and why it will not be of use appear reasonable given that the pharma industry has a heavy geopolitical tilt towards the West. India should withdraw the appeal probably. Afterall, it is knowledge produced by corporations (often backed by the national government of a country) that is being asked to be shared. The knowledge producer has a right to decide either way. 

The outcome will set a new ground for global cooperation in the future though. If the industry and analysts have had clear and precise data on where the bottlenecks are and what is causing them, then it also means that a roadmap to fix those issues is possible. The intent however dictates against any such move.

This may eventually turn out to be a symbolic issue  and by the time any meaningful decision is made, big pharma companies might fulfill most of the immediate global need through their own factories.

But this will also mean that the markets eventually win and that any country, any group of people which is caught on the wrong side of it, for whatever reason (their mistake or plain misfortune), will have the short end of the stick. Or, as in this case,  might not get a chance to survive the pandemic. Because vaccines cost money, it was made by investing a lot of money and you can have it when the developer is rewarded more money.

And by the way, Edward Jenner never patented smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine. Those who come after tend to forget what enabled them.

7 thoughts on “Day 419: Vaccinating the world needs a talk first

  1. Jonas Salk did not patent the polio vaccine either. Another matter to consider is that there are multiple vaccines in use and they are not equal in terms of efficacy, safety, and practicality of use. Here in Canada where a number of provinces including my own are facing rapidly increasing cases, an advisory body came out this week and said that the mRNA vaccines are “preferred” and, if possible Canadians should avoid AZ and J&J due to the risk of blood clots. Of course these are the type of vaccines most affordable and usable (along with the Chinese and Russian versions which are less widely studied) for a large percentage of the world’s population. Creating a hierarchy of vaccines is unhelpful. It should be a global concern to ensure that all the vaccines are as safe and effective as possible.

    1. And knowing Canada a bit, can’t even accuse it of vaccine nationalism in the govt’s preference of one vaccine over the other. That’s our speciality!

    2. Question is, who will ensure this – that all vaccines are safe and effective. Big pharma won’t! Govts won’t! Public is clueless. Watchdogs survive on govt crumbs.

      1. Safety is essential, but it will never be 100%. However one’s risk of contracting Covid and having a poor outcome is much higher. And for blood clots, birth control pills, smoking and other things have a much higher risk of clots. Of course scientific and statistical literacy are in short supply. With AZ/Covishield the messaging has been very inconsistent here in Canada and in Europe. The fact that the US has not approved it (but has hoarded it) does not help.

        There is an effort to learn how to detect and treat the clots, but access to an acute care hospital is necessary. That is a resource not evenly distributed, even in many western countries (like mine). I hope they continue to research until a way to avoid or minimize the clots is found. The vector vaccines are a critical part of the arsenal. Did you know that Pfizer is now developing and taking orders for a booster shot to be given next year? The trajectories are widening. Unfortunately we will only be able to assess all this looking back from years in the future. Interesting times, as you said a while back.

      2. Pfizer had booster dose market in sight. So, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Every country is living its owns unique situation, as it looks. Good point about the risk of clots from other sources.

  2. The vaccine is not available to the public. All cannot register things through cowin website as well. How many of them know how to register through website in India

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