I am writing this letter in response to the article titled, “Monopoly rights over vaccine production must be opposed” that appeared on our website on 10th May, 2021. The article is very timely and brings out the nasty gimmicks of the biggest pharma companies which they have always used to their benefit and are doing it yet again. At a time where the entire world is grappling with the crisis of a deadly virus, all that the monopoly pharma companies can think of is PROFIT! At a time when we should see the rate of vaccination rapidly increasing, most developing countries are struggling for a few thousand doses every day. At this rate it is estimated that millions of people across many countries of the world are going to remain unimmunized until 2023 at least. This means there is no stopping of this crisis for another two years and that too just because vaccine manufacturers want to maintain their monopoly control over the market and maximize profits.
In the article, we read about the enormous amount of money that governments of the world have put in development of the vaccine. Right from basic research, development of the vaccine to setting up manufacturing, it was all funded by people’s money. Yet, the biggest of the pharma companies are sitting on the patent rights of the vaccine and hence monopolising the manufacture. Ironically, the companies claiming “Intellectual” Property (patent) rights have spent no intellect at all in discovering the vaccines. For example, Covishield, the main vaccine in India, was developed by Oxford University of England. Once it proved its efficacy on a small sample, AstraZeneca acquired exclusive global rights for further testing and manufacturing. The Serum Institute of India, which has acquired the license for its production from AstraZeneca and will be making thousands of crore of profit, has spent nothing on its development.
The vaccine belongs to the people of the world as efforts in developing this vaccine are based on development of science through years and by scientists from across the world. But, moves of people and countries worldwide demanding waiver of patent on Covid-19 vaccines have been vehemently opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. They argue that withdrawing the patent rights would undermine incentives for doing research. They also argue that it would not make a difference to the developing countries at all as they lack the skills to manufacture Covid-19 vaccine based on mRNA technology.
All these claims are absolutely bogus and the real goal is to maintain power over the market and ensure monopoly. They fear losing on the monopoly rights of manufacture for years to come. They are not only thinking of the current crisis, but are using this opportunity to ensure monopoly over the markets such that the annual booster shots in the future also remain under their control.
The article rightly points out that the Indian state leading the patent waiver agitation is not doing it for the Indian people but to support the interests of the Indian pharma monopolies.
The Indian government is hiding the failure of its health system by shifting the blame on to the patent rights of foreign pharma industry.
We need to understand that patents were never really an issues in scaling up vaccine manufacture in India at least, as out of the eight Covid vaccines approved worldwide, five are already licensed and two of them are already being produced in India. The Indian state that is leading the fight for patent waiver and presenting it as the biggest blockade to handling the crisis, is itself ensuring safety of patents for its own monopoly companies. It allowed Bharat Biotech to claim patent rights over locally developed Covaxin. The Indian government has now asked public sector pharma companies like Haffkine Institute to manufacture Covaxin, but it would take nearly one year for it to get the vaccines out as they lack the production facilities required for manufacture. This is a result of years of planned neglect by successive Indian governments of the public sector pharma companies to weaken them and instead promote private players.
The reason why the US government is ready to discuss a waiver on the Covid vaccine is because they know that it is not going to make much difference in reality. A lot of know-how and trade secrets are involved in production of vaccines which are not part of the patents. Nonetheless, the immense pressure put by people and their organisations has forced governments across the world to address the issue of patent rights over Covid-19 vaccine.
The vaccine belongs to the people of the world and the criminal and shameless aim of the pharma monopolies to make profits out of people’s miseries has to be challenged.