Urgent joint action between countries need of the hour to stave off next wave of pandemic
Unless nationalism and competition make room for internationalism, cooperation and solidarity, the world will be propelled towards an unprecedented tragedy in the history of mankind
Vaccination against COVID-19 suffers from inequality and sluggishness, the inequality to such an extent that 80 per cent of the vaccines have been administered in the high and upper-middle-income countries, as against 19.7 per cent in rest of the middle-income group, and only 0.3 per cent in the low-income countries. The sluggishness is such that at this pace, the pandemic will continue to rip through the Global South, leaving the whole world highly vulnerable for another 57 years.
The failure of nationalism, competition, and charity as concepts have never been so stark as the world is witnessing at present. Unless nationalism, competition, and charity retreat and make room for internationalism, cooperation and solidarity, the world would be the world will be propelled towards an unprecedented tragedy in the history of mankind.
The issue came for discussion in the recent four-day “Summit for Vaccine Internationalism” of the Progressive International as an emergency response to vaccine apartheid. Commitments were made in five key areas for eradication of COVID-19 from the face of the earth underlining the pitfalls of nationalism and competition being pursued by several countries in respect of ‘vaccination for all’ and everywhere, irrespective of income and citizenship.
The five key areas vital for speeding up the production and distribution of medicines and administering COVID-19 vaccines to end the pandemic are:
Opening collaboration over COVID-19 vaccine technologies;
Solidarity prices for COVID-19 vaccines;
Sharing of regulatory capacity to approve COVID-19 vaccines for domestic use;
Pooling manufacturing capacity to ramp up vaccines and medical equipment production;
Collective disobedience to challenge the Big Pharma monopoly enforced through the World Trade Organisation.
Though the world has begun the process of making a ‘New International Health Order’, it has never progressed beyond concept. We desperately need it now beyond conceptual level to reality similar to the ‘New International Economic Order’ ushered in by the UN in the 1970s to overcome the vaccine apartheid that threatens our very survival, calls the South’s sovereignty into question, and risks further murderous mutations of the COVID-19 virus.
Moreover, the universal right to life needs to be recognized by all – the states, institutions, companies, and common people. The initiative of the Progressive International and its commitment to realize this dream is thus a welcome move.
The first key commitment of opening collaboration over COVID-19 vaccine technologies is the most significant one. Countries such as Cuba and Mexico have offered their nationally developed vaccines in clinical trials – Cuba’s Soberana 2, Abdala, and Mambisa and Mexico’s Patria – to new partners to openly collaborate on vaccine trials and licensing.
Moreover, the offer is open, rather than exclusive, at a time when the majority of COVID-19 vaccines operate as full monopolies, and have not been offered to any other manufacturers to make. A few vaccines offered to others have been licensed on a limited or exclusive basis, such as AstraZeneca’s agreement with India’s Serum Institute, which shuts out other Indian manufacturers from making it.
It has been extensively reported and confirmed that the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, which developed the vaccine, had originally intended to offer it to the world on an open license basis, but instead entered into an exclusive arrangement with AstraZeneca on the urging of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Factory owners around the globe, from India to Canada, are ready to retrofit facilities and move forward with vaccine production if given the chance, but it is saddening that they have been rejected.
‘Solidarity prices for COVID-19 vaccines’ is the next important thing to be realized. Cuba, on this regard, has not only committed to open collaboration but also affordable prices which would benefit those most in need. Mexico has in mind from the beginning the solidarity prices for other countries, and is committed for that.
The emphasis on affordability is critically important in a market where pharmaceutical companies have made huge profits and engaged in price gouging, with countries paying wildly different prices. For example, South Africa was reported to be paying more than double the EU price for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the start of the vaccine rollout this year.
Sharing of regulatory capacity to approve COVID-19 vaccines is also significant. Argentina has lent the advanced regulatory capacities of ANMAT, Argentina’s state regulatory entity, to collect data on new vaccines and share this with countries throughout the region, including Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, to speed up the process of approval of Sputnik and other vaccines. The country is also committed to extending this facility to any country in need.
Pooling manufacturing capacity to ramp up vaccine and medical equipment production is also of paramount importance. Countries with considerable production capabilities — Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela — have pledged to ramp up manufacturing in order to produce enough doses to export to other countries.
The last, but not the least, is the collective disobedience to challenge the Big Pharma monopoly enforced through the World Trade Organisation. Access to lifesaving drugs can only be secured by such a move which several countries in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere are trying to achieve. All the countries and the people of the world must support such a move since everyone everywhere has right to life and to access drugs irrespective of their legal or financial status for the larger interest of humanity.
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