On May 8th, 2021, Dr. Apostolos Veizis, Executive Director of INTERSOS Hellas, joined ERT’s radio (Proto Programma 91,6-105,8) show “ETSI KI ALLIOS” in order to speak with the journalists Ioanna Niaoti and Areti Bita on the occasion of the request for open accessibility to vaccines.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, INTERSOS continues to act in favor of the most marginalized groups. INTERSOS Hellas has been active in Greece since 2016, currently operating in Epirus, Thessaly and Lesvos.
-But what is the general picture on a global level in terms of vaccine distribution and access?
-Why is there a two-speed regime for countries that need immediate assistance to curb the spread of COVID-19?
-What about the demand for free access to vaccines, especially while it comes to the vulnerable populations?
Veizis answers the above concerns, stating that:
«This is a serious matter that civil society organizations and many other actors have been fighting for all these years in order to ensure that everyone has access to the vaccine, meaning that it’s not a privilege or a luxury. At this stage while we keep facing the pandemic and thinking about all the scientific means we have at our disposal, we know that apart from the remaining measures taken, vaccination is at least one good way to reduce the number of losses and the number of people admitted to hospitals etc. On the other hand, we understand that in order to make it through, we have to achieve the vaccination of the global population so that we could feel safer in the face of the current situation let alone the mutations.
The initiative taken in the previous days by the USA, included the plan of waiving the vaccine patents. So, we are talking about the suspension of some certain rules but not the complete revocation of the patents since there are too many interpretations of the subject. But we keep in mind the TRIPs (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), under which unfortunately in this case, the vaccine is considered as a commercial product as well.
Around the world there has been a debate about the specific condition which stipulates that if a public health issue emerged, certain restrictions might not apply. So, on October 2nd, 2020, in this context India and South Africa presented to the WHO their proposal of waiving vaccine patents and at that time 100-150 countries were in favor of it but those who disagreed were the usual suspects: the USA, EU. etc.
The issue that arises is multifaceted. The scientific analysis showed that we need about 11 billion doses of vaccine to cover about 70% of the world’s population.
If the patents are waived, will the production of vaccines be increased?
Should this happened, it will buy us time while the companies that currently have the patents will share technical know-how with already existing reliable structures in order to increase this production. At present, India alone has the capacity to produce 60% of all kinds of vaccines worldwide. This country has already signed an agreement with AstraZeneca and produces on behalf of this particular company. It’ s not that India does not want to sell the vaccines to its own people. It’ s because India produces them on behalf of others.
Until now we ‘ve been producing about 400 to 500 million doses per month, while the truth is that we need 1 billion doses per month. If the waiving of the vaccine patents proceeds, it will bring an immediate boost in the production process paving the way for the desired result.
How will a timetable be met in terms of mass production from various factories?
Do not think it’s grinding or chaotic. On the contrary, handling it properly it’s much easier than you think. And honestly because of the demands that ensued from the pandemic and all the consecutive financial pressures, the WHO can now certify various bodies in order to impart know-how on an already approved product such as the one Pfizer came up with. This in turn will offer the possibility of production in a large factory that meets all the necessary specifications by launching the production line for vaccines.
So, there is no question of delay by the organizations which, after all, under pressure can function just as well and as safely as they would under normal circumstances … Today’s greatest victory, meaning the fast creation of a vaccine and its approval gives us hope for other diseases too, enhancing our motivation for a more critical and realistic assessment of the situation so far.
Companies claim to invest in research, but in fact what is being spent is public money. That’s why we say that vaccines belong to the people. Of course, companies aim to make a profit, but this profit should not exceed the allowable limits and what is really at stake as a priority. Therefore, there should be more transparency, especially considering the actual cost of producing the vaccine. And we also ask for transparency on the part of the Commission so as to openly make available the contracts it has concluded with the companies. Moderna said straight out: “Even if the vaccine wouldn’t work, we got our money anyway”.
Biden’ s initiative should ensure that everyone sits at the table, equally and without exceptions, discussing today and tomorrow’ s COVID issues, with a substantial response from governments considering their share of responsibility! Because public health is governments’ responsibility! We, as taxpayers, pay for a better healthcare system. It’ s about time we had a more humane approach to the case of medicines! In this way we will also provide financially weaker countries with the opportunity to reduce mortality and morbidity rates.
Countries crumbling because of the scourge of COVID and people still experiencing exclusion etc., clearly reflect the superficial and myopic way in which we are used to handling things without having a more prudent and far-seeing reasoning all this time regarding also the treatment of many other diseases such as Ebola, HIV / AIDS etc.
Of course, here we are now. COVID has shown us that it does not discriminate. We came to realize it’s an opportunity for the whole world community to see this situation through a lens of compassion and change the rules of how it treats human beings and how it perceives reality. Taking our lives back means “lessons learned”. We organize our societies for the next day. This is not a matter of fear but of the fact that the next day should find you better prepared!».