As an artificially low supply of Covid-19 vaccines prolongs the global pandemic, opponents of intellectual property waivers and other measures aimed at increasing the worldwide production of doses are claiming that pharmaceutical corporations are capable of quickly rectifying shortages on their own.
“Pharmaceutical companies have a financial interest in exaggerating their ability to deliver and downplaying the risks.”
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen
According to a new analysis published Thursday by advocacy group Public Citizen, however, this “dangerous narrative”—peddled by Big Pharma and based on “unrealistic” manufacturing projections—undermines efforts to develop and implement the ambitious policies necessary to expand the production of life-saving vaccines and bring the greatest public health crisis in a century to an end.
“People suffering and waiting for vaccines worldwide cannot afford for leaders to embrace wildly optimistic forecasts suggesting Covid-19 doses soon will be available,” Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, said in a statement. “We need urgent public manufacturing and technology sharing to meet global need and end the pandemic.”
Prior to U.S. President Joe Biden’s surprise endorsement last week of the India and South Africa-led motion at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend coronavirus-related intellectual property barriers for the duration of the pandemic, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) wrote the White House in an attempt to dissuade Biden from supporting the proposal, which is now backed by nearly every country outside of the European Union.
In their letter (pdf), the industry lobbyists claimed that “Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers will supply approximately 10 billion doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate the entire current global vaccine eligible population.”
Although PhRMA failed to prevent Biden from embracing the movement for a vaccine patent waiver, Public Citizen warned Thursday that the emerging narrative that “the supply problem will soon be resolved” is still being “weaponized against structural reforms aimed at expanding supply.” At the WTO, where decisions are made by consensus, any one of the body’s 164 member nations can thwart the will of the supermajority.
“Pharmaceutical companies have a financial interest in exaggerating their ability to deliver and downplaying the risks,” Maybarduk explained.
Meanwhile, COVAX—the United Nations-backed program to allocate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, which health justice advocates have accused rich donor countries of hiding behind while they oppose the WTO patent waiver as well as C-TAP, the World Health Organization’s voluntary technology transfer program—had shipped less than 50 million doses by the end of April, roughly one-fifth of its projected target of 235 million jabs.
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT