The manufacturers of the main Covid-19 vaccines are “fuelling an unprecedented human rights crisis” thanks to their policies on intellectual property rights, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
The five vaccines currently in circulation are made by six companies – AstraZeneca, Pfizer, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Novavax. Each one of those companies, Amnesty reports, have failed to meet their human rights responsibilities.
For example, the companies have each to a greater or lesser extent failed to take part in a coordinated initiative to increase the worldwide availability of vaccines and have actively resisted proposals to share technology and lift intellectual property rights on other countries producing their vaccines.
Not only detrimental to countries with less access to vaccines, this attitude jeopardises the global fight against the pandemic. By restricting access to vaccines for swathes of the global population, the likelihood of more resistant coronavirus variants developing in these regions greatly increases: posing a risk to those developed countries where vaccination campaigns have so far been effective.
If labs in less-developed countries were able to produce vaccines locally – and there are scientists perfectly capable of doing so – then local people would be able to be vaccinated. From a purely selfish point of view, any European visiting those countries would then be safer and would be less of a risk when returning home.
But at the moment the sharing of vaccines depends on governments, who can choose whether or not to donate, and how many doses. This distribution model is plainly insufficient to meet global demand.
“Vaccinating the world is our only pathway out of this crisis. It should be time to hail these companies, who created vaccines so quickly, as heroes,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.
“But instead, to their shame and our collective grief, Big Pharma’s intentional blocking of knowledge transfer and their wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states has brewed an utterly predictable and devastating vaccine scarcity for so many others.”
“Today marks 100 days until the end of the year,” Callamard said.
“We’re calling on states and pharmaceutical companies to drastically change course and to do everything needed to deliver two billion vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries starting now. No one should spend another year suffering and living in fear.”