Britain and Germany came under intense pressure last night to drop their resistance to proposals that would cut the cost of Covid-19 vaccines, following accusations that a G7 summit deal to fund 1 billion doses will give the poorest countries in the world “crumbs on the table”.
Aid agencies said rules protecting drug patents against illegal copying should be lifted during the pandemic to speed up the launch of vaccines and save lives across the developing world.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told G7 leaders in Cornwall yesterday that a temporary lifting of Covid-19 vaccine patents was essential to saving lives among Africa’s 1.2 billion people.
In what is seen as a repeat of the 1990s dispute over the high cost of retroviral HIV drugs for African countries, activists said countries like the UK and Germany, which are home to vaccine makers successful, they should support a patent sharing agreement.
Oxfam warned that if no agreement is reached on waiving vaccine patents to reduce the price of each dose, the total cost to poor countries would increase by at least 10 times.
The United States and France have joined more than 100 countries in requiring major vaccine manufacturers to relinquish their patent rights to enable rapid manufacturing of vaccine doses at a fraction of today’s cost.
President Joe Biden has supported the proposal, which would see Moderna supply doses of vaccines at a cost to poorer countries.
But the UK has refused to do the same. A Boris Johnson spokesperson said the prime minister preferred individual countries to secure low-cost commitments from vaccine suppliers, as the UK did in a deal with AstraZeneca, rather than agree to a global deal to lift vaccine patents. .
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also rejected the move, saying it would deter pharmaceutical companies from investing in drugs and create “serious complications” for vaccine production. German officials have complained that trade barriers imposed by Britain and the United States on medical supplies have proven to be a more significant barrier to vaccine production.
Jürgen Trittin, a member of the Green Party and former Minister of the Environment, told the German news agency DW that lifting patents for vaccines was not a solution: “Producers have their cooperation partners even in the South. The problem is export obstacles. And these obstacles come from the US and also the UK … so I think it’s a blame game, a scapegoat game, that Joe Biden is playing here. ”
Germany is home to two of the three most successful vaccine developers, Pfizer / BioNTech and CureVac, which produce vaccines with high efficacy rates and, unlike the vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca, are easy to manufacture. The regulator is expected to approve the CureVac vaccine for use in the coming weeks.
The American company Moderna also uses new mRNA technology adopted by BioNtech / Pfizer and CureVac. The founders of Biontech and Moderna have become billionaires in the last year after the success of the vaccine launch program.
Boris Johnson has offered to share 100 million of the 500 million doses bought by the UK as part of a G7 plan under discussion to distribute 1 billion doses to poor countries before the end of the year. The United States’ contribution to the total is 500 million doses.
The charity Global Justice Now called the UK donations “a public relations stunt” that will allow the G7 to ignore the structural problem of intellectual property rules causing vaccine supply shortages.
He praised Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron for supporting an intellectual property exemption.
Nick Dearden, director of the charity, said: “Boris Johnson’s lofty promises to vaccinate the world today have been wiped out like a surfer in Carbis Bay.
“The UK has bought 500 million doses of vaccines; far beyond what we need. And yet today we are only offering to give 100 million doses to the rest of the world, and only in the middle of next year. It’s little more than a public relations stunt.
“Intellectual property rules are restricting vaccine production to the supply chains of a handful of companies. This weekend, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel can finally step up, follow Biden’s example and remove these barriers, so that we can vaccinate the whole world. “