British-based charity organisation, Oxfam has asked governments and pharmaceutical companies around the world to ensure vaccines, tests and treatments for Coronavirus are patent-free to ensure people in least developed countries access them.
Several countries around the world are working around the clock to find the coronavirus treatment and vaccine.
However, according to Oxfam, vaccinating the poorest half of humanity – 3.7 billion people – against coronavirus could cost less than the ten biggest pharmaceutical companies make in four months.
“Providing a vaccine to 3.7 billion people could cost less than what the ten biggest pharmaceutical companies make in four months. Anything less than guaranteeing that a vaccine is made available free of charge to all people would be obscene,” said Jose Maria Vera, the Oxfam International Interim Executive Director.
“Vaccines, tests and treatments should be distributed according to need, not auctioned off to the highest bidder. We need safe, patent-free vaccines, treatments and tests that can be mass produced worldwide, and a clear and fair plan for how they will be distributed.”
The Gates Foundation has estimated that the cost of procuring and delivering a safe and effective vaccine to the world’s poorest people is $25 billion.
Last year the top ten pharmaceutical companies made $89 billion in profits – an average of just under $30 billion every four months.
In March, drug manufacturer Gilead moved to extend the monopoly on a potential treatment for the virus, and only withdrew it after a public outcry.
Gilead has now donated a significant portion of its current supply of remdesivir to the US government, but news reports suggest the company could make significant profits from subsequent production.
However, according to Oxfam, rich countries and huge pharmaceutical companies – driven by national or private interests – could prevent or delay the vaccine from reaching vulnerable people, especially those living in developing countries.
The EU has proposed the voluntary pooling of patents for coronavirus vaccines, treatments, and tests in their draft resolution for the World Health Assembly. If made mandatory and worldwide, this would ensure that all countries could produce, or import low cost versions, of any available vaccines, treatments, and tests.
The Oxfam interim Executive Director however urged countries to ensure mandatory sharing of all Covid-19 related knowledge, data and intellectual property as well as making commitments to make all public funding conditional on treatments or vaccines being made patent-free and accessible to all.
“There should be a commitment to deliver additional global vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity with funding from rich country governments. This means building factories in countries willing to share and investing now in the millions of additional health workers needed to deliver prevention, treatment, and care both now and in the future,” Oxfam says.
“There should be a globally agreed, equitable distribution plan with a locked-in fairness formula so that supply is based on need, not ability to pay. Vaccines, treatments, and tests should be produced and supplied at the lowest cost possible to governments and agencies, ideally no more than $2 a dose for a vaccine, and provided free at the point of delivery to everyone that needs it.”
Jose Maria Vera urged governments to prioritise the health of people everywhere over the patent and profits of pharmaceutical corporations.