Patents are destroying the global vaccination campaign

IWU-FI Press statement | 30 January 2021

As the COVID-19 epidemic continues unabated, the crisis in vaccination plans erupts around the world.

The nefarious role of the multinationals of the global pharmaceutical industry emerges. Once again, the criminal role of the capitalist-imperialist system becomes clear. The imperialist governments themselves, including Germany, France or Italy, denounce the failure of multinationals such as Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca to deliver vaccines. The capitalist governments themselves endorse the secrecy of the contracts. It is unknown how much they will pay for the vaccines and how they have fixed prices. The multinationals, led by the giant Pfizer, introduce clauses exempting them from liability for adverse effects, shielding them from national judicial systems. While millions of people continue to get infected and die from COVID-19, vaccines have become big business for multinational pharmaceutical companies.

From the IWU-FI, we join all those who fight and demand the abolition of pharmaceutical patents, free vaccines for all, and a global emergency production plan for vaccines, with freedom of production in each country.

To go deeper into why this vaccination crisis exists, we reproduce highlights of an article (El Socialista N° 490, 26 January 2021) by Dr Reynaldo Saccone, former president of Cicop (health professionals’ union of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina) and a leader of Izquierda Socialista, a section of the IWU-FI of Argentina.

“The delay in the production of vaccines is a global problem in which involves all the multinational pharmaceutical companies. So far only 64 million people have been vaccinated worldwide: 20 million in the USA, 15 million in China, 7 million in the UK and Germany, Spain, Italy and France 1.5 million each. In Brazil 600,000 and Argentina 292,000. (…) 75 per cent of countries have not started mass vaccination.

Why the delay? Dr German Velasquez, former director of the World Health Organisation’s Access to Medicines Programme, points out that the multinational pharmaceutical companies do not want to take risks and do not continue production until they have sold the batches: “If you don’t buy them from me, I won’t continue”. This situation means it is the imperialist countries with the most resources that have taken the vast majority of vaccines. According to Amnesty International, these countries, which account for 13 per cent of the world’s population, keep 52 per cent of existing vaccines.

Moreover, the existence of patents prevents any country or company from producing them. Velasquez points out that the industry has developed vaccines thanks to large state subsidies but, through patents, multinationals have taken over what is originally the world heritage. “Patents are destroying the vaccination campaign and the patent system must be changed,” he concludes. Not satisfied with using state subsidies for production, the monopolies also demand that governments grant them immunity from legal claims for spillover effects. To this end, they get laws that favour them, as in our country (Argentina), where the Peronist deputies and those of Juntos por el Cambio passed a law with the sole opposition of the FIT Unidad.

We have mentioned the initiative of ninety-nine countries led by India and South Africa that propose a patents ban for the duration of the pandemic. This week the rector of the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, spoke out in the same vein, joining a growing number of institutions such as Oxfam, Amnesty International and Médecins Sans Frontières. The Argentinean government, which is a signatory to this declaration, must promote and unilaterally disregard the patents on vaccines and medicines, and undertake local production to confront the pandemic”. (…)

“From Izquierda Socialista (…) we demand the abolition of pharmaceutical patents which, together with the non-payment of the foreign debt and a real tax on big fortunes, as proposed by the Frente de Izquierda-Unidad, should sustain the efforts of all the working people to end the pandemic”.

No to COVID-19 vaccine patents | International campaign

We, the undersigned faced with the persistence and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global crisis in vaccination plans, demand that medical patents for COVID-19 vaccines and medicines should not apply.

We reject the irresponsible management of the private pharmaceutical industry, its secrecy and the failure of multinational vaccine delivery companies to deliver vaccines in their quest for profit from the pandemic.

Governments must demand patent exemptions and unilaterally disregard these patents on diagnostic methods, treatments and vaccines to treat COVID-19 for the duration of the pandemic and coordinate a plan for the emergency mass production and distribution of free vaccines to all countries of the world.

We join the various initiatives that aim to mobilise for the demand for the abolition or suspension of patents until we achieve global herd immunity. These include those of Médecins Sans Frontières (“No to patents. Health is not a business”) or the application submitted to the WHO by India and South Africa, supported by 99 countries, which proposes the exemption of patents on medical tools to treat COVID-19.

To sign in support of the No to COVID-19 vaccine patents international campaign click here