Wealthy countries – including the UK – are blocking proposals to help developing nations increase their vaccine manufacturing capabilities, documents leaked to BBC Newsnight show. Several poorer countries have asked the World Health Organization to help them. But richer nations are pushing back on provisions in international law that would enable them to achieve this. This is according to a leaked copy of the negotiating text of a WHO resolution on the issue. Although TrialSite will continue to research the facts here as Brazil, India and other nations fall deeper into crisis the lack of effective and proactive international collaboration during this pandemic boggles the mind given the sophistication of international collaborators, funding levels and mandates.
Among those richer nations are the UK, the US, as well as the European Union.
The spokesperson says the UK is one of the largest donors to international efforts to ensure over one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines get to developing countries this year reports BBC.
If and when governments should intervene to ensure affordable supplies of medicines is a long-standing issue. But the ability of different countries to source vaccines and drugs has been highlighted by the pandemic.
Many experts say equitable access to vaccines is essential to prevent cases and deaths and to contribute to global population immunity. After all, the virus knows no boundaries. But the global capacity for producing vaccines is about a third of what is needed, says Ellen t’Hoen, an expert in medicines policy and intellectual property law. “These are vaccines that are produced in wealthy countries and are in general kept by those wealthy countries.”
To make a vaccine you not only need to have the right to produce the actual substance they are composed of (which is protected by patents), you also need to have the knowledge about how to make them because the technology can be complex.
Others agree. Anne Moore, an expert in vaccine immunology, worries about what impact undermining patents will have on future research. “Over time we see fewer and fewer organisations and commercial companies being in the vaccine field because there’s so little return on it,” she says.
Drug companies point out they have also donated financially and given medicines to help tackle the pandemic. “It’s obvious that there are longer-term plans to increase the price of these vaccines once the most urgent phase of the pandemic is over. So that is another reason why developing countries are saying we need to gain the ability to produce these vaccines ourselves now,” Ms t’Hoen says.