Rather than letting a few pharmaceutical giants retain exclusive and lucrative control of Covid-19 vaccine recipes, nearly 70% of adults in the United States think governments should adequately compensate drug developers and then require them to share know-how and technology with qualified manufacturers—a move that would boost global vaccine supply and enable a more efficient and equitable inoculation process, thereby shortening the duration of the pandemic.
"This survey shows that the American public recognizes that Covid-19 will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across the world, including in the U.S., until action is taken to drastically scale-up global vaccine supply."
—Joanne Lin, Amnesty International
That's according to a new YouGov poll commissioned by the People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of organizations—including Amnesty International, Global Justice Now, Oxfam, and Public Citizen—that has advocated for treating coronavirus vaccines, created with large infusions of public resources, as a global public good.
As Common Dreams has reported, hundreds of civil society organizations, a handful of progressive U.S. lawmakers, and the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) have recently lobbied for nullifying the patent protections that enable Big Pharma to privatize life-saving Covid-19 vaccines in order to maximize profits.
According to the survey, conducted online last month, a majority of the U.S. public also supports efforts to remove certain intellectual property barriers currently impeding the mass production of vaccines, a move that experts say is a prerequisite to ending the devastating coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 2.6 million people worldwide.
"This survey shows that the American public recognizes that Covid-19 will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across the world, including in the U.S., until action is taken to drastically scale-up global vaccine supply," Joanne Lin, national director for advocacy and government affairs at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement released Tuesday.
"We cannot bring this pandemic to an end," Lin added, "unless pharmaceutical companies share the knowledge, technology, and intellectual property to do so."
"No one should be blocked from getting life-saving vaccines because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket," she added. "Only by working with others to share resources and technology to scale-up supply can we bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic."
The People's Vaccine Alliance warned late last year that unless urgent action is taken by governments and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that enough doses are produced, 90% of people living in poor countries would not be inoculated in 2021. Last month, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres lamented that 10 wealthy countries had gobbled up 75% of the world's Covid-19 vaccines while people in more than 130 countries had yet to receive a single dose.
According to Lin: "Even though the U.S. population is just 4% of the global population, the U.S. government has ordered more than 20% of the world's supplies of vaccines currently in phase 3 clinical trials, enough to immunize the entire U.S. population four times over. Similar approaches are being taken in Canada and Europe, underscoring how 'me first' is becoming 'me only.'"
While Guterres has decried the "wildly uneven and unfair" distribution of vaccines, global health campaigners say there's a solution to "vaccine apartheid"—waiving the World Trade Organization's (WTO) intellectual property rules, which are standing in the way of manufacturing a sufficient number of doses to ensure that everyone in the world who needs a vaccine can get one.
"Instead of arguing about how to ration better, we could be rationing less," Akshaya Kumar, director of crisis advocacy at Human Rights Watch, said last month.
As the emergence of more contagious variants turns worldwide vaccination into a race against time, 70% of U.S. adults told pollsters that the continued spread of the virus elsewhere poses a substantial risk to the national economy, and almost half (47%) deem it a large or significant threat to them personally.
Bolstering survey respondents' concerns, a recent analysis found that forcing the world's poorest countries to wait until 2024 for mass inoculation will generate more than $9 trillion in economic losses, in addition to causing needless suffering and death.
The new polling data comes as the WTO prepares to discuss a proposal (pdf) submitted last year by India and South Africa to override Big Pharma's patents on coronavirus tests, treatments, and vaccines to guarantee equitable access to diagnostics and drugs.
As Peter Maybarduk, director of Access to Medicines at Public Citizen, noted, "The sharing of information and knowledge is what allowed the U.S. government and vaccine manufacturers to develop Covid-19 vaccines in record time."
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"The legal barriers to sharing medical technology so more manufacturers can help ramp up vaccine production can easily be overcome," he added. "All that is needed is political will and cooperation."
"The legal barriers to sharing medical technology so more manufacturers can help ramp up vaccine production can easily be overcome. All that is needed is political will and cooperation."
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen
If enacted, the emergency waiver of the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) would temporarily suspend Big Pharma's monopoly control over vaccine knowledge and technology, making it possible to expand the production of life-saving doses.
Although the TRIPS waiver is backed by more than 100 countries, a small handful of powerful states in the Global North—led by the U.S., U.K., and Canada—has so far used their veto power to thwart the will of a supermajority of WTO member nations.
During an interview with healthcare activist Ady Barkan in July 2020, Biden committed to sharing any Covid-19 vaccine produced in the U.S., saying "it's the only humane thing in the world to do."
As Common Dreams has reported, health justice campaigners argue that rejoining the WHO, contributing funding to the agency-backed COVAX program, and negotiating a manufacturing partnership between competing companies to boost vaccine supplies, while welcome steps, are insufficient.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, told Common Dreams last week that "factories across the world are lying idle when they could be producing hundreds of millions of vaccines this year—but they can't because Big Pharma is refusing to share the know-how."
"This technology should not be the property of these giant corporations," Dearden said. "They should not have the final say on who produces these life-saving vaccines and on what terms. Nor should they decide, in effect, what order people are vaccinated in."
"Most countries in the Global South are demanding patents be overridden," he added. "It's really obscene that those countries that have already bought the majority of vaccines available this year are saying, 'No, no, that's not necessary, the system works just fine.'"
Alluding to the upcoming meeting of the WTO's TRIPS Council, which convenes this Wednesday and Thursday to shape the "direction of global strategy on Covid vaccine access and distribution," Lin emphasized that Biden "faces [a] critical decision."
On Mar 10-11 @POTUS faces critical decision at @wto about direction of global strategy on #CovidVaccine access & distribution. Will US prioritize saving lives of ALL people worldwide including those in low-income nations? Or will the administration prioritize drug corp profits? https://t.co/TIAjjw0Crf— Joanne Lin (@JoanneLinDC) March 9, 2021
"In the battle against Covid-19, we must always remember that Covid anywhere is Covid everywhere," said Niko Lusiani, senior adviser with Oxfam America. "We can't end the pandemic or rebuild the economy without a vaccine that is free, fair, and available to all."
"In order to win against Covid," Lusiani continued, "companies must share vaccine knowledge, technology, intellectual property, data, and know-how to boost supply, reduce price, and enhance equity."
"Americans recognize this," Lusiani added.