Dec 15, 2021
Public health experts on Wednesday unveiled a report spotlighting more than 100 firms in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that have the potential to produce mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, putting the lie to the Big Pharma narrative that developing countries lack manufacturing capacity to make the lifesaving shots.
"People are dying for corporate profit--it's that simple."
Compiled by the AccessIBSA project and the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign, the list includes 120 companies from India, South Africa, Cuba, Brazil, Senegal, Chile, Argentina, Egypt, Bangladesh, Thailand, and other countries--an indication that there is significant untapped potential to expand global vaccine supply to reach the billions of people who have been denied access.
Crucially, however, the firms are missing vaccine technology and intellectual property specific to the mRNA shots produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have refused to distribute their recipes to the world. The U.S. and German governments have thus far declined to force the pharmaceutical giants' to share their tech, even though taxpayers provided substantial funding for the development of the mRNA vaccines.
"There are over 100 companies across Africa, Asia, and Latin America who have the capacity to make an mRNA vaccine," Achal Prabhala of the AccessIBSA project said in a statement Tuesday. "These companies can bridge the yawning inequity in mRNA vaccine supply in poor countries. All they need is for the U.S. and German governments to end monopolies and share the valuable technology they funded and essentially created with them."
Shailly Gupta, communications adviser for MSF's Access Campaign, said the list "clearly illustrates that there is no dearth of able companies in low and middle-income countries to manufacture mRNA vaccines."
"It's time now for Big Pharma to stop using this as a lame excuse and start sharing the tech," Gupta added.
All of the firms on the newly published list manufacture sterile injectables and have been certified for good manufacturing practices, ensuring that they adhere to high international quality standards.
Vaccine equity campaigners argued that the identification of qualified manufacturers in developing countries debunks Pfizer's claim that "only a few facilities in the world are able to perform the critical steps needed to manufacture mRNA vaccines and the inputs to produce those vaccines at a large scale."
Stephane Bancel, Moderna's billionaire CEO, similarly insisted in a call with analysts earlier this year that "there is no idle mRNA manufacturing capacity in the world."
"This is a new technology, you cannot go hire people who know how to make mRNA--those people don't exist," Bancel said.
\u201cPharma companies have been claiming they alone have the expertise to manufacture covid vaccines. But a new report identifies more than 100 companies with the potential to produce mRNA vaccines. People are dying for corporate profit\u2014it's that simple. https://t.co/PRlOSYowXu\u201d— Bassam Khawaja (@Bassam Khawaja) 1639583017
Pfizer and Moderna--both based in the U.S.--have voiced opposition to a proposed patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines and dismissed calls to take part in technology transfer efforts facilitated by the World Health Organization, actions that campaigners say are artificially limiting global vaccine supply and prolonging the deadly pandemic.
Germany, home to Pfizer's partner BioNTech, is among the leading opponents of the proposed intellectual property waiver, which has remained stuck in World Trade Organization negotiations for more than a year.
In a letter sent Wednesday, MSF and Human Rights Watch urged the Biden administration--which has expressed support for a patent waiver--to take action to ensure that the manufacturing firms identified on the new list "have timely access to intellectual property, vaccine technology, and materials needed to support manufacturing."
"The U.S. government's failure to ensure more widespread technology transfers," the letter argues, "seriously undermines global efforts to meet human rights obligations regarding international cooperation, right to health, and sharing the benefits of scientific research."
"Leaving pharmaceutical companies to decide where and how vaccines should be manufactured, to whom they should be made available, and at what price and other terms is an abdication of the U.S. government's human rights and global health commitments and leadership," the groups conclude.
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