Because the EU and the German government are sticking to leaving production to a few companies, the WHO warns of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The contract between the European Union and the Tübingen vaccine manufacturer Curevac, published under pressure from the European Parliament, shows that the EU has by no means secured the much-invoked global public interest. Rather, the EU assured manufacturers that they would make full use of their own patent rights. WHO and aid organizations warn that this will drag the pandemic away.
Public risk, private profits?
In the document , which was blackened in many places and was initially only accessible to parliamentarians in the reading room, the Commission and the member states committed themselves to share the cost risk for the development of a vaccine and the expansion of production capacities. According to the contract, the community will be responsible for “costs, expenses, liabilities, depreciation, amortization, value adjustments in connection with research, development, rapid construction, IP, buildings, construction, administration, manufacturing, production, filling, …” and so on, with agreed upfront payments continue.
At the same time, however, the contract guarantees that Curevac remains the sole owner of the intellectual property of its developments. Even a transfer, paid or as a donation, of vaccines by the federal government and other European governments to third parties is subject to change. If the federal government wants to give vaccine from its quota to clinics in a needy country or donate it to an aid organization, it needs the approval of Curevac. This is what the EU has contractually promised.
This is one of the concerns of the patient aid organization Doctors Without Borders, said Elisabeth Massute, political advisor at the organization’s drug campaign (MSF). Because on this basis, the prospect of passing on vaccines that are not required by the federal government is not easily possible. At the same time, MSF and recently the organizations Oxfam, Health Action International and “The People’s Vaccine” are warning that the slow start of the production of vaccines in industrialized countries will have catastrophic consequences for poorer countries.
25 vaccinations in the poorest countries
The head of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, at the opening of the 148th meeting of the board of directors, sharply criticized the currently rampant vaccination nationalism and pointed out that the 39 million doses of vaccine, which had been vaccinated in the rich north so far, 25 vaccinations in the poorest countries in the world face. “Not 25 million, not 25,000, but 25,” said Ghebreyesus. It was wrong, said Tedros, for younger people to have their turn in rich countries, while in many countries not even the medical staff could be vaccinated. This is not how the coronavirus pandemic can be successfully combated, says Massute at MSF in Berlin.
Even the Covax mechanism supported by the EU is not showing the desired effects. Because the vaccine pool is affected by the hesitant start of production even more than the rich customers. The announcement by Pfizer / BioNTech that they want to deliver 40 million doses to Covax is to be welcomed, according to MSF. But that’s just two percent of the deliveries promised by the duo for the next two years.
Suspending patents in the pandemic
In the opinion of non-governmental organizations and the WHO chief, there is only one thing that can actually accelerate production: the revocation or suspension of patent protection and the possible granting of significantly more production licenses, if possible worldwide. Massute fears that a single company or even a few companies will never meet the global need for vaccines.
With the so-called “Covid 19 Technology Access Pool” (C-TAP), the WHO has created a possible mechanism for the coordinated and possibly time-limited granting of licenses to production sites worldwide. The fact that the pool has so far remained practically without contributions is not only due to the governments that have blocked themselves, such as the German government and the EU. “The WHO failed to explain and promote C-TAP better,” criticized James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International KEI Online .
Curevac boss “misunderstood”
Why, for example, has nobody taken Curevac’s boss, Franz-Werner Haas, at his word, who himself told the Stuttgarter Zeitung in December that he thought it was necessary and right to suspend patents during the pandemic. One task for C-TAP is, for example, to formulate model contracts for such temporary transfer of rights, KEI demands from the WHO.
Incidentally, Curevac himself explains that the CEO was misunderstood. In fact, one does not want to forego patent protection, emphasizes Thorsten Schüller, Vice President Communications, opposite heise online. “We would only offer a license if our patent is attacked by someone, that is, if someone uses the knowledge.” An invitation to pirates? No, says Schüller, a license agreement instead of legal enforcement of rights, and only while the pandemic is ongoing. At the same time, Schüller recognizes that less vaccine can of course be produced if there are fewer production facilities. “But making mRNA is not that easy either.”
Is vaccine production too complex?
In an answer to heise online about delivery difficulties and an unnecessary extension of the pandemic worldwide, the Federal Ministry of Health also insists that vaccine production is complex and not so easy to set up. Massute from the MSF drug campaign contradicts this, however, by pointing out that there are already examples that it is not that difficult again.
The Swiss company Lonza, for example, which had never produced vaccines before, will soon be producing for Moderna. “That shows that it is possible,” said Massute. In view of the risks that a delayed pandemic brings for poor, but consequently also rich countries, the aid organizations are also supporting the demands of numerous countries that the World Trade Organization make exceptions to the existing patent protection for vaccines and other technology required in the context of Covid can. Leaving the release of licenses to the companies has not worked – at least so far.