On May 7th, 2021, Dr. Apostolos Veizis, Executive Director of INTERSOS Hellas, joined SKAI 100.3’ s radio show “Zoi.gr” in order to speak with the journalist Christina Vidou regarding the issue of fair distribution and free access to vaccines.
The need to find a real solution to the pandemic is growing day by day, especially given the countries that face huge barriers to accessing vaccination efforts. Reasonably, the demand for the proposal of waiving Covid vaccine patents is gaining more ground these days.
COVID-19 leaves no room for exclusion and does not discriminate. The pandemic has given birth to many dangers, but this doesn’t mean that it cannot create opportunities. In the midst of a pandemic, it is time for governments to promote a more inclusive, just and equitable human-centered approach.
In the context of the fight against COVID-19, INTERSOS continues to act vigorously in favor of the most marginalized groups. INTERSOS Hellas has been active in Greece since 2016, currently intervening in Epirus, Thessaly and Lesvos.
How is the landscape, however, being shaped during this period in terms of attempts for free access to vaccines, let alone in terms of supporting vulnerable populations across the globe? Veizis referred to the serious challenges that have emerged in this field, stressing that:
«It’s an image we’ve had for many years. The debate related to the vaccines, is coming to our lives, more urgently that ever: The US President’ s decision pertains to the TRIPs (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), and generally covers intellectual property issues, patents, geographical indication of origin, etc. It basically handles things that have to do with trade where unfortunately medicines as well as vaccines belong to this category.
I remind you, however, something you have said in the past. At the beginning of October 2020, regarding the TRIPs signed by all the countries of the world under the WHO, India and South Africa were the first countries, followed by many others, to propose the suspension of certain rules in order to allow free, unlicensed distribution of products. After all, you remember that in the beginning of the pandemic we did not have enough masks, gloves, and then we inevitably turned to the vaccination process.
This proposal of India and South Africa was an initiative that was ridiculed by the United States, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc. There was no positive response to this piece. And at this time, the American President is oriented in this direction, bringing something very important. And maybe in a very few days or weeks we will have a weapon at our disposal that could really tackle the pandemic differently.
But let’s focus on a few more significant things. Estimates at the moment internationally are that we need about 11 billion doses of vaccine to cover almost 70% of the world’s population. We are talking about two doses in which priority is given not so much to children, but to older people.
At present, the ongoing production on a universal level, amounts to 400-500 million doses on a monthly basis. So, to meet global needs, we need 1.5 billion doses a month and now we only produce 400 million doses, which means that we will never get to the point we are looking for: I’m not talking about immunity but to control the number of people who will get sick, pass away, or be hospitalized.
In this regard, there is a lot of discussion and a strong reaction from the companies, with Mr. Albert Bourla, the chairman of Pfizer leading the way. But we should put emphasis on the following: No one talked about launching massive production of Covid vaccines from any country. For instance, at the moment, India alone regardless its difficult situation, has the potential and produces worldwide every year 60% of the vaccines for the whole range of human medical needs.
As a matter of fact, this is the production we need in order to deal with this issue. Factories already exist and are available. Thus, there has to be no patent barrier. Obviously, we are talking about a production that is designed and organized in a very short time so as to meet the current needs of the population around the world.
When companies talk about research costs, I would like to direct your attention to the fact that the costs for these procedures are public money. The public paid for research and development, without any contract and this is where the case stumbles. Because with the money of the Greek, European, American and other people’ s who pay as taxpayers, there were agreements with the pharmaceuticals that no one has seen or checked and to which they ‘gave it their all’.
E.g. We had companies like Moderna that came out and said: “Even if the vaccine, wouldn’t have any effect, we got our money anyway. It didn’t cost us a thing. Therefore, we won’ t have any financial loss”. So, in essence, the question of whether this will really be an obstacle to innovation, that does not apply. This has been proved by the treatment with antiretroviral medicines for HIV / AIDS, and the same is happening now with Covid vaccines.
Although we are interested in public health, at this critical juncture we face, unfortunately the economy stands in the way, hence the rapid production of so many vaccines. On the other hand, at this stage if we need 10 billion doses and one dose costs $10 in production, then we need 100 billion to allocate to this cause.
And if we want to speak in economic terms, the above is something that could be of interest to all mankind. In this case, the world economy is losing about 850 billion because of the existing impediments, etc. Therefore, the whole situation is hindered by the drug makers companies that have the monopoly, the upper hand and have the power to put pressure on governments. It’s that simple…
But if the plan of waiving vaccine patent rights is applied, and the formula is given to factories with expertise and technical know-how, we can have the ability to produce a quality-controlled product by the WHO. Mass vaccination will be achieved worldwide, so this could be the solution to the pandemic.
We must also look at things in a different light for other diseases! It is at least contradictory for a vaccine to take 20 to 30 years to be produced, when in less than a year Covid vaccine has been developed and approved.
One understands how dysfunctional the system is after seeing in the eyes its shortcomings, and the great extent of its dependence on financial interests. COVID-19 did not discriminate. If we keep discriminating against people, unfortunately we will always feel adrift and will be susceptible on every coronavirus that knocks on our door! ».
You can listen to the whole discussion here: https://www.skairadio.gr/zoi-gr/episode-2021-05-07