In August this year, a coalition of civil society organizations in South Africa, which includes the Health Justice Initiative (HJI) and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), achieved a remarkable breakthrough in the discussion surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. This milestone was reached after the Pretoria High Court issued an order instructing the Department of Health to disclose the contracts and proceedings of meetings pertaining to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, Janssen, the Serum Institute of India, and the public-private global health partnership Gavi.
American citizens pride themselves for living in a country that most of them believe is superlative — freest, most powerful, most entrepreneurial. Yet despite the spheres where it has high standing, the United States ranks dismally among its peer nations when it comes to deaths from COVID-19. “Dismal” might not be a strong enough adjective, actually: the U.S. ranked dead last among its peer nations, with the most deaths per capita. The data comes from a new study published in the medical journal JAMA, which also analyzed state-by-state vaccination and public health data. Alarmingly, researchers noted that if every state in the United States had the same vaccination rates as those states with the highest vaccination rates, more than 100,000 lives would have been saved.
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.
Advocates for a more just healthcare system responded with alarm to Thursday reporting that the Biden administration is taking steps to stop paying for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments in the coming months, a move critics fear will lead to higher prices and more expensive coverage, enriching pharmaceutical and insurance giants at the expense of patients. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to meet with representatives from drug manufacturers, pharmacies, and state health departments on August 30 to "map out" how to shift the bill for coronavirus jabs and therapeutics from the federal government to individuals, according to The Wall Street Journal. The looming transition that many have anticipated and resisted since the onset of the ongoing pandemic is expected to take months.
Major tobacco companies including British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International are funding an anti-regulatory, libertarian-leaning organization, Consumer Choice Center (CCC), that is working to restrict global Covid-19 vaccine access. CCC is mobilizing to defeat a proposal at the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property rules related to Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The WTO proposal is aimed at expanding global access to life-saving Covid-19 products, and reversing staggering international inequities. By funding its opposition, critics say the tobacco industry is undermining public health, which will have impacts not only during this pandemic — but the next one. The CCC supports a broad array of deregulatory measures, and the tobacco industry is, famously, a champion of deregulation.
Washington, D.C. – As governments worldwide prepare to meet at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva for its first ministerial summit since the start of the pandemic, more than 750 students across the U.S. are calling on President Joe Biden to support a comprehensive waiver of WTO rules standing in the way of COVID vaccine, test and treatment access. “While COVID vaccines are readily available throughout the United States, that’s still not the case for billions of people worldwide,” said Noël Hutton, student outreach coordinator for the Trade Justice Education Fund. “The U.S. has a major role to play in removing barriers to vaccine and treatment access.
The Biden Administration says it will veto a global plan to allow countries to ignore patents and make their own Covid-19 vaccines unless the Chinese are specifically excluded, Bloomberg reported. The sudden move has jolted top health workers who were hoping that the long-promised patent waiver would enable them to make vaccines available to everyone, including in poor countries in Africa and Asia. But the US says it will scupper the whole deal unless China is explicitly excluded from the waiver. In response, China said that it did not wish to be excluded from the pact, but would voluntarily agree not to take advantage of it. Deputy US Trade Representative Maria Pagan told Bloomberg that China’s offer was not good enough. It must be excluded in print.
Since the pandemic began, the United States has spent 7.5 times more money on nuclear weapons than on global vaccine donations. Stated another way, the money put towards global vaccine donations has amounted to just 13% of the money put toward nuclear weapons. The comparison shows that, even during a shared international crisis, in which an outbreak anywhere threatens people everywhere, the U.S. political apparatus is far more willing to fund instruments of death than vaccines that protect life. Zain Rizvi, research director for the corporate watchdog organization Public Citizen, helped In These Times calculate the total number of dollars that went toward the purchase of global vaccine donations: roughly $7 billion. This number can be found by adding up contracts from the Department of Defense
Two years into the pandemic, the trade rules that pose barriers to scaling up production of the vaccines, medicines, tests and other health products we dearly need have not been addressed, highlighting the need for an automatic mechanism to suspend problematic rules when a pandemic, other public health emergencies of international concern, or other exceptional circumstances arise, rather than leaving it to the murky politics of the World Trade Organization. On 15 March, the European Commission (EC) finally admitted that intellectual property rules pose a threat to vaccine access globally. The counterproposal that was leaked to the press is attributed to the quad of USA, the EC, India and South Africa, but only reflects positions from USA and the EC.
On Tuesday, after a year and a half of negotiations over an intellectual property waiver for Covid-related products, the United States, European Union, India and South Africa reportedly reached agreement on a temporary waiver of patent rules for Covid vaccines. “The difficult and protracted process has resulted in a compromise outcome that offers the most promising path toward achieving a concrete and meaningful outcome,” said U.S. Trade Representative spokesperson Adam Hodge in a statement. Global health activists, however, are slamming the tentative deal as not only insufficient, but a potential setback, because it excludes tests and treatments, includes a carveout for China, and introduces new barriers for the production of generic treatments that could have implications far beyond the Covid crisis.
As the summit between the African Union and European Union (EU-AU summit) came to a close on February 18, the EU’s dedication to ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 products remained murky. While Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, stated that the two unions had a very constructive discussion on the TRIPS waiver, the meeting resulted in little more than a tepid statement and a new deadline for reaching an agreement on intellectual property rights during the pandemic. Von der Leyen also stated, “We share the same goal. We have different ways to reach that goal.” In reality, it would seem the AU and the EU have very different goals. While delegates from different African countries made a point of supporting a suspension of intellectual property rights on key Covid-19 products, EU politicians continue to focus their energies on postponing the TRIPS waiver as much as possible and protecting the profits of pharmaceutical companies based in the Global North.
African countries continually find themselves at the back of the vaccine queue, but two developments could begin to change this narrative. Last week, researchers at a company in South Africa said that they have nearly completed the process of reproducing Moderna’s mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. Working with the WHO’s technology-transfer hub, the researchers at Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines in Cape Town made very small quantities of vaccine, based on Moderna’s data, but without the company’s involvement. The WHO advised them to copy Moderna’s vaccine in part because the company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has said it will not enforce its COVID-19 patents during the pandemic.
Progressive International recently asked for contributions so they can send a delegation to Havana next week to promote Cuba's effort to vaccinate the world against Covid-19. But in an apparent genuflection to the illegal U.S. embargo against the island, Dutch multinational bank ING has blocked all donations supporting the trip, the group said Tuesday. "This is scandalous," said Progressive International (PI) general coordinator David Adler. "The U.S. wields unparalleled power over our global financial system," Adler continued. "Yesterday, a message received by our supporter revealed the far-reaching consequences of the U.S. embargo on Cuba: a European bank, established in the Netherlands, has decided to put the interests of the U.S. government above the lives of millions of people."
A small team of Texas researchers is being hailed for developing an unpatented Covid-19 vaccine to share with the world without personal profit, with some advocates asking, if they can do it, why can't Big Pharma? Dubbed "the World's Covid vaccine," the inoculation—formally called Cobervax—is an open-source alternative to Big Pharma's patent-protected vaccines. Instead of being produced for profit, this shot could ultimately be manufactured around the world and made cheaply available to all without governmental or private legal retribution. Common Dreams reported this week that Cobervax—developed jointly by Texas Children's Hospital, Houston's Baylor College, and the Indian pharmaceutical company Biological E. Limited—was authorized for emergency use in India amid a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
One particularly pernicious myth going around in the US is the notion that “natural immunity,” gained from contracting Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is preferable to getting vaccinated. One prominent politician, Sen. Rand Paul (R.–Ky.), has declared that he refuses to get vaccinated, because of his belief that he has “natural immunity” since he’s “already had the disease” (Slate, 5/23/21). Now, the Republican Party is officially embracing its position as the anti-vaccine political party, advocating what they call “natural immunity” as an alternative or substitute to getting vaccinated, as the Associated Press (11/21/21) reported: Republicans fighting President Joe Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandates are wielding a new weapon against the White House rules: natural immunity.