“The goal of companies that produce vaccines is to pass from pandemic to endemic, have a virus that changes periodically, which therefore periodically requires a new vaccine “. Vittorio Agnoletto, doctor and lecturer at the State University of Milan of the course “globalization and health policies”, since the Covid he is leading the European campaign in Italy “No profit on the pandemic”, which supports the suspension of patents on vaccines. “The showdown it will be from 30 November to 3 December – he announces -, at the ministerial meeting at the World Trade Organization. You will see them if the proposal made a year ago by India e South Africa it will pass. Then the games are closed ”.
If we go from pandemic to endemic, and then Covid becomes like measles or chickenpox, what happens in the vaccine market?
Vaccines will only be produced by multinationals with patents because these are the current rules. Governments will necessarily have to buy them, even pushed by public opinion which obviously will ask for them. Some large companies have already said that in the transition from pandemic to endemic, prices will rise significantly. Pfizer, Moderna and Astrazeneca have already declared this.
A year and a half after its creation, the Covax international donation program managed to deliver only 143 million doses compared to the one billion announced. Yet vaccine production is now running at a great pace. Why don’t they arrive at their destination?
“On the one hand there is the hoarding race, there are those who buy many more doses than necessary and keep them. On the other hand, there is a question that is hard to understand. Why are vaccines close to maturity also not donated?
Indeed. A research company (Airfinity) recently estimated that over 100 million doses of the vaccine are likely to end up in the trash by the end of the year because they have expired. Why?
In some contracts signed by Europe it is written that before being able to donate vaccines to other nations, the EU must ask the manufacturer for authorization. This condition is crazy. We have funded research on vaccines, we have paid for them and even now that we have them we cannot use them as we want. The other condition that can block Covax is that if an EU country donates vaccines to another country, the recipient country must comply with all the conditions of the upstream contract, including those on compensation for damages. So if, say, Rwanda receives vaccine donations from Italy, it has to accept that in case of damage claims, the Rwandan state will pay.
Italy is one of the last among European countries in the relationship between promised and delivered doses.
I don’t know why, the government should make that clear. I only know that after the Rome Pact they made a donation to Vietnam, explaining in the press release that it is a strategic country for Italy from a commercial point of view. If the donation is linked to geopolitical interests, the entire Covax construction collapses. If so, each nation decides which nation to donate to and under what conditions. Become a world chess game.
Could the drug made by Merck change that?
The premises are very promising, Merck says it will halve deaths from Covid. But we still don’t know much about the drug, there are no scientific publications, we are what Merck says. Still, we are seeing a rush by states to reserve that drug when it goes on the market. At that point if the pill works, we will have the first world with all the doses and all the others without. Exactly how it went with Remdesivir when Trump bought all world production until December 2020. Then it turned out that Remdesivir didn’t work that much, but the logic is the same. It is a compulsion to repeat, a mistake we keep making.
What would it take?
In light of the experience with vaccines, in this situation all states should come together to go and deal with Merck, to negotiate from a position of strength, on the price and on the various conditions, questioning the patent. It should be global health governance. The UN and WHO would serve for this, in theory.
Do you still think that the solution to giving vaccines to the whole world is the suspension of patents?
There is no other solution. The difference in results is abysmal. This whole thing about donations not arriving depends on the subjective will of someone, whether they are states or companies. They are the ones who decide whether to donate, to whom, how much and when. The difference is that with the moratorium, no company should ask anyone’s permission. Charity and almsgiving, which always depend on the subjectivity of the donor, would be replaced with a right, which is an objective act.
If the whole world is not vaccinated quickly, is it more likely that some resistant variant will develop and therefore the virus will return to making many victims even in Italy?
It is almost safe. Three days ago BioNTech said that by 2022, perhaps as early as June, it will have to modify the vaccine they are producing, to cope with the variants that will develop. This is while Italy, Israle and UK are starting with the third dose using the current vaccine. What will those who have taken the third dose do? A fourth with a modified vaccine? It is a clinical and economic issue that we should decide on.
The negotiations on the suspension of patents are almost at the end, in a month the decisive meeting will take place at the WTO. Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the European Union remain opposed to the proposal of India and South Africa.
Obviously, that of the EU is the most important vote, which also weighs on the other two. We need to understand what the new government of Germany, home of BioNTech, will do, so far opposed to the suspension. And then there is Italy. What does the Draghi government plan to do? We will see if this topic will be at the final meeting of the G20, under the Italian presidency, which takes place in the first days of November. It would be a signal.