The healthcare system in the U.S. shows time and time again that under capitalism, profit maximization trumps individual and societal well-being. We saw a recent example from Gilead Sciences manipulating patent laws to extend the life of one of their drugs and delay the release of another, potentially safer option. Gilead’s efforts serve as just one example of how under capitalism patent laws are used to maximize profits at the expense of public well-being. In the world of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, many of the more recent treatments center on using a combination of different drugs that target different parts of HIV’s replication cycle.
Washington, D.C. - Students on over a dozen campuses across the U.S. are participating in a “Week of Action” calling on the Biden administration to support lifting World Trade Organization (WTO) barriers to global COVID test and treatment access. The tabling, letter writing, educational events and rallies taking place coast-to-coast come as the WTO General Council meets from October 6–7 to discuss proposals that would allow low- and middle-income countries more easily produce low-cost COVID medications. “Billions of people in low- and middle-income countries worldwide still don’t have access to the COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments that many Americans take for granted,” said Kaleigh Flanagan at SUNY New Paltz in New Paltz, N.Y.
From July 19-21, activists from across the globe gathered in Istanbul for the second edition of the Global Summit on Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines (GSIPA2M). This event is a biennial gathering organized by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) and Make Medicines Affordable consortium to hold critical debates and discussions on ensuring that intellectual property rights don’t undermine equitable access to lifesaving medicines. At the summit, one thing became crystal clear: the challenges of the Access to Medicines (A2M) movement are diverse and enormous. They include Big Pharma’s unstoppable greed and influence over governments, multi-stakeholder initiatives usurping the role of UN institutions, and insufficiency of national-level laws and institutions.
Health activists gathered at Geneva’s central train station on Wednesday, October 13, calling on the EU, the UK, Norway and Switzerland to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO). “As Europeans, we are ashamed that our political leaders are among the last opponents to a just solution to end the pandemic and save lives,” said the campaigners in a press release. “If patents were lifted today, we could vaccinate the whole world in less than one year,” stressed Frank Prouhet, a doctor and activist from the collective Stop patents on Covid-19 vaccines, citing research by Public Citizen. Stéfanie Prezioso from the left platform Ensemble à Gauche (Together on the Left) said it was high time to admit that COVAX is not ensuring equitable access to vaccines in the Global South, and that people there continue to die because European governments do not want to stand up to Big Pharma.
After the Biden administration indicated its support for this limited waiver, many other rich countries signed on as well. Germany, under longtime chancellor Angela Merkel, has been largely left alone to carry water for the pharmaceutical industry in opposing the vaccine waiver. I had the chance to confront the industry arguments directly last week in a web panel sponsored by the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (link included when it becomes available). It’s always educational to see these arguments up close and real people actually making them. The first line of defense is that the waiver of patent rights by itself does not lead to any increase in vaccine production. This is of course true. Vaccines have to be manufactured, eliminating patent rights is not the same thing as manufacturing vaccines.
There were cautious hopes for the G7 meetings held in early June this year, where the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States – the world’s seven economically wealthiest countries – came together to discuss key global issues. A remnant of the neo-colonial nature of such forums, they represent a place where decisions with global impact are made. The G7 produced two notable outputs that concern global health governance: the first being the Carbis Bay Health Declaration which commits to taking efforts to prevent a pandemic similar to COVID-19 occurring again in the future; and the second being a commitment to provide more than a billion vaccine doses for low and low-middle income countries over the next year.
There is a struggle right now to push the World Trade Organization to waive patent protections for medicines, vaccines and technology used for the COVID-19 pandemic. James Love of Knowledge Ecology International explains why that would be an important but not sufficient step to increase access to medicines and vaccines. There are steps governments could take right now to share critical information and expertise to lessen the disparities between rich and poor nations in access to vaccines. Love goes on to explain how there could be greater openness in sharing information in general and how pharmaceutical research and production could be done in ways that improve innovation and make access more equitable. He points the way to where activists can best focus their energy on this issue.
Several of President Joe Biden’s most powerful appointees and advisers have had business relationships with pharmaceutical giants lobbying the administration on COVID-19 and intellectual property issues, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. Those ties — and Biden’s longtime alliance with pharmaceutical industry interests — could prove particularly relevant as drug companies now try to defang any new waiver of patent rules that might reduce their profits and facilitate the wider distribution of vaccines to COVID-afflicted countries. Last summer, Biden broke with his own legislative record and pledged to support relaxing those intellectual property rules to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it “is the only humane thing in the world to do.”
A new poll finds that 59% percent of US voters support waiving all patent protections to produce generic versions of life-saving medicines for critical diseases, from Covid-19 and HIV/AIDS, to heart disease and diabetes. Only 28% disagreed. The survey carried out by Data for Progress and the Progressive International, shows a super majority of 71% registered Democrats support the removal of all patent barriers to allow for the cheaper production of life-saving medicines. Even registered Republicans support the action with 47% in favor compared to 39% opposed.
President Joe Biden's administration on Wednesday supported a proposal submitted by several countries to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend the intellectual property of vaccines against covid-19 when the United States has already administered 250 million doses. The announcement was greeted with sharp falls in the shares of the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna and Novavax on the Wall Street stock exchange. Biden made good on his campaign promise to endorse the patent suspension. Still, he has only done so when the U.S. vaccination rate plummets, and the country is sitting on tens of millions of doses yet to be administered.
India is prominent in the news right now, as it has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. Rhetoric from the Biden administration might lead people to believe that resolving the crisis in India is a top priority. As thousands of people die each day in India and the United States restricts all travel from the country, however, it turns out that Biden’s support for vaccine nationalism is fueling the crisis. Biden has promised aid to India in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, test kits, and other supplies — but without vaccines, that essentially slaps a band-aid on the problem. There are two actions the United States could take, though, that would make a serious dent in the spread of the pandemic in India.
According to a new survey, more than 60% of US voters across party lines would support president Joe Biden endorsing the demand of a patent rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines raised by over 100 countries at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The survey conducted by Data for Progress and the Progressive International and published on the latter’s website shows that only 28% of all voters in the US oppose the move. The survey indicates that the overwhelming majority of Democrats – over 72% – support the move which can reduce the cost of vaccine production and increase its reach to people in poor and developing countries across the globe. Around 50% of the registered Republicans also support the move.
Progressives are increasing pressure on President Biden to support a waiver for COVID-19 vaccine patent protections at the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing the move is crucial for helping lower-income countries fight the coronavirus. The push features leading Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups calling on Biden to take action, but the White House has not made clear its position. “The Biden administration has an obligation to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration and reestablish our nation’s global reputation as a public health leader,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.