Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Person receives Covid-19 vaccine

People over 55 year of age receive AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines, sent by World Health Organization's COVAX, against the coronavirus pandemic at Kazanches Health Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on April 14, 2021. (Photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Doctors Without Borders Calls on BioNTech to Share Vaccine Tech With World

"The faster companies share the know-how, the faster we can put an end to this pandemic."

Andrea Germanos

Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders on Monday urged BioNTech—one of the makers of a Covid-19 vaccine—to share its vaccine technology with the world to lessen the stark inequality in dose access and save lives.

The demand from the group, also known Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), came on the eve of BioNTech's virtual shareholder meeting and amid concerns over the emergence of new coronavirus variants.

Germany-based BioNTech partnered with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer to create, thanks in part to strong public funding, a vaccine using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The Pfizer-BioNTech jabs have been administered in over 100 countries.

But even with multiple Covid-19 vaccines created, the vaccination rate for Africa is just 3.1 doses per 100 people. In North America, by contrast, the rate is 69 doses per 100 people. It's 60 doses per 100 people in Europe. Such imbalance along with obstruction of a vaccine-related temporary intellectual property rights waiver proposal at the World Trade Organization has fueled accusations of "vaccine hoarding" by richer nations. 

"Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security, and expand sustainable access to health products."

Lara Dovifat, campaign and advocacy adviser for MSF's Access Campaign, addressed that divide in a statement Monday, saying that the crisis must be countered with an urgent ramp-up in global vaccine production, which could be enabled if only Big Pharma would democratize its vaccine knowledge.

"We're facing massive vaccine access inequity across the globe for Covid-19. Yet right now, several countries have manufacturing capacity that could be used to produce mRNA vaccines to help alleviate this deadly imbalance," Dovifat said.

"But to do so," she continued, "we need BioNTech and other companies making mRNA vaccines to share the technology and knowledge needed to make these vaccines."

"The faster companies share the know-how, the faster we can put an end to this pandemic and be better prepared for future ones with more distributed production capacity globally, including in the Global South," she added.

MSF says that multiple African companies stand ready to produce a mRNA vaccine—they just need the technology and knowledge transferred.

The aid group further noted the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was developed with significant public funding, adding to calls it must be a "people's vaccine."

Sharing the vaccine recipe with other manufacturers including those in Africa "would be a first step towards African-made vaccines, contribute to the continent's preparedness for future pandemics, and reduce its dependence on vaccine imports, while guaranteeing that people across countries in Africa get timely access to these lifesaving health tools," Christian Katzer, general director of MSF Germany, said in a statement.

"The German government has an opportunity and an obligation to leverage its investments and urge technology sharing to boost vaccine production globally. Doing so," said Katzer, "will help save as many lives as possible, as soon as possible."

MSF's call came the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) announced plans for a mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa that brings together public and private partners.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—who's previously blasted "scandalous" vaccine inequality—called the development "great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines."

"Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security, and expand sustainable access to health products," he said.

According to a press statement from WHO:

Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed. Interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licenses to the technology. WHO and partners will bring in the production know-how, quality control, and necessary licenses to a single entity to facilitate a broad and rapid technology transfer to multiple recipients.

The technology transfer hub will benefit from the Medicines Patent Pool's (MPP's) vast experience of intellectual property (IP) management and issuing of IP licenses. MPP is also assisting WHO to negotiate with technical partners and supporting in the governance of the hubs.

The tech transfer hub development was also welcomed by U.S.-based advocacy group Public Citizen, which pointed to its recent analysis showing how it was possible to establish regional manufacturing hubs to produce eight billion coronavirus vaccine doses in less than a year and said that the "fruits of research and manufacturing should be shared openly with humanity."

“Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been left especially vulnerable to Covid-19, due to wealthy countries purchasing the available scarce supplies, and corporations holding secret the vaccine know-how that the world needs to expand production. WHO's regional vaccine production hubs could mitigate these travesties, which have contributed to suffering and death," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program.

"It is possible to make enough mRNA vaccine for the world within a year," said Maybarduk. He also called on U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders to "offer funding, technical capacity, and political support to share vaccine recipes and accelerate WHO's plans to make a difference not only against future pandemics, but also against Covid-19 today."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Poll: Overwhelming Majority of US Voters Want Robust Regulation of Tech Companies

"When it comes to Big Tech's monopoly power and surveillance business model, the public is unified: They want action. They want to see the Big Tech companies broken up and users' privacy protected."

Brett Wilkins ·


228 Republicans Blasted for Brief Urging Supreme Court to Overturn Roe v. Wade

"Every single politician who signed this amicus brief is actively working to strip away our fundamental freedoms and endanger pregnant people and families across the country."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Historic Victory': Bayer to End US Residential Sales of Glyphosate-Based Herbicides

"As agricultural, large-scale use of this toxic pesticide continues, our farmworkers remain at risk. It's time for EPA to act and ban glyphosate for all uses."

Kenny Stancil ·


73 Major Corporations Paid Just 5.3% Federal Tax Rate Between 2018 and 2020: Report

Thirty-nine other companies paid no federal corporate tax during the three-year period, in which they collectively reaped over $120 billion in profits.

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Asks Congress to Act to Prevent Evictions—Just 3 Days Before Moratorium Expires

"These calls should have come weeks ago, not 72 hours before the moratorium expires."

Jake Johnson ·