Across Africa and Southeast Asia, governments and aid groups, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), are calling on pharmaceutical companies to share their patent information more broadly to meet a yawning global shortfall in a pandemic that already has claimed nearly 2.5 million lives.
Pharmaceutical companies that took taxpayer money from the US or Europe to develop inoculations at unprecedented speed say they are negotiating contracts and exclusive licensing deals with producers on a case-by-case basis because they need to protect their intellectual property and ensure safety.
Critics say this piecemeal approach is just too slow at a time of urgent need to stop the virus before it mutates into even deadlier forms. Last month, WHO called for vaccine manufacturers to share their know-how to “dramatically increase the global supply.”
“If that can be done then immediately overnight every continent will have dozens of companies who would be able to produce these vaccines,” said Abdul Muktadir, whose Incepta plant in Bangladesh already makes vaccines against hepatitis, flu, meningitis, rabies, tetanus and measles.
All over the world, the supply of coronavirus vaccines is falling far short of demand, and the limited amount available is going to rich countries. Nearly 80 percent of the vaccines so far have been administered in just 10 countries, according to WHO. More than 210 countries with a collective population of 2.5 billion haven’t received a single shot.
The deal-by-deal approach also means that some poorer countries end up paying more for the same vaccine than richer countries. South Africa, Mexico, Brazil and Uganda all pay different amounts per dose for the same AstraZeneca vaccine — more than governments in the European Union, according to studies and publicly available documents. AstraZeneca said in an email that the price of the vaccine will differ depending on factors such as production costs, where the shots are made and how much countries order.“What we see today is a stampede, a survival of the fittest approach, where those with the deepest pockets, with the sharpest elbows are grabbing what is there and leaving others to die,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS. SOVEREIGNPH