Patent Waiver Will Not Solve Key Challenges in Accelerating Global Vaccination Against Covid
The past year has been a difficult year all over the world for all of us. The death and devastation caused by Covid-19 is unparalleled in our generation. Those who were very sick, those who died, those who lost loved ones, those who lost their livelihoods, those who were alone and isolated.
It was also a time of tremendous scientific advancement. It was around the same time last year that we knew good progress had been made in developing a vaccine and we will soon be on the anniversary of the first shipment to Ireland on Midsummer’s Day. -Etienne.
The available Covid-19 vaccines are the product of decades of industry investment in research and development – intellectual property is the backbone that enables companies to invest in scientific innovation. In 2020, Pfizer spent more than $ 9 billion on research and development, and we expect to exceed $ 10 billion in 2021.
In 2020, we invested over $ 2 billion at risk to scale up manufacturing of our vaccine while it was in development, and we received no public or government money for vaccine development.
There was no large-scale vaccine or mRNA drug manufacturing in the world before this. We built this manufacturing infrastructure from scratch.
To meet global demand, we have continued to expand our global manufacturing network – we work with 20 facilities in eight countries on four continents and our Grange Castle site received a $ 40 million investment this year to produce a substance. drug for the vaccine.
The patent system has enabled us to build this infrastructure and quickly mobilize and commit the necessary resources, technical knowledge and know-how. Maintaining this system that recognizes intellectual property is what will fuel the next generation of scientific innovation.
The patent system helps ensure that we are not susceptible to “bad actors” who might take advantage of the patent gap to prevent us from making our own treatments and vaccines. And at the same time, it provides us with a collaborative mechanism to fight the pandemic.
Low income countries
Due to large investments and intensified infrastructure, we remain on track to produce three billion doses this year, of which at least one billion will go to middle and low income countries at a not-for-profit price, and We expect to manufacture four billion doses in 2022, of which one billion doses will go to low-income countries.
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Pfizer-BioNTech has supplied vaccines to territories and countries in all regions of the world – more than 871 million doses to 97 low- and middle-income countries, including 91.5 million doses to 37 countries on the African continent.
We do this in several ways. We have 64 direct supply agreements in place with governments around the world, 40 of which are for low- and middle-income countries. We partner with Covax with a supply agreement to deliver 40 million doses in 2021.
And we’re working with governments willing to share or donate doses – to date we’ve worked with country governments, Covax, the U.S. government, and the European Commission, to facilitate the donation of over 155 million doses to 79 countries around the world.
The vaccine infrastructure has not been a bottleneck to our faster manufacturing. One challenge has been the scarcity of the highly specialized raw materials needed to produce our vaccine. These 280 different components are produced by many suppliers in 19 different countries. Many of them needed our substantial support (technical and financial) to speed up their production.
According to EFPIA figures, it is currently estimated that there are 12.6 billion doses of vaccine already produced by the industry, and 16.2 billion doses will be available by next February. The partnership within the biopharmaceutical industry has been crucial to this Herculean effort – across all companies making Covid vaccines, there have been 329 collaborations with third parties to increase production.
At the same time, countries have faced major challenges in the pandemic, including getting more people vaccinated. This challenge is not simply a question of supply. It is also about healthcare infrastructure, logistics and vaccine confidence.
For some countries with large populations, Pfizer has been officially requested by their governments in recent months to delay or suspend shipments due to; absorptive capacity due to excess supply of vaccines (from all manufacturers) in the country; lower adoption rates due to reluctance; limited health care capacity / infrastructure / syringe supply or other capacity issues such as manpower constraints and in many cases a combination of the above.
Improving immunization rates globally is a daunting task that requires improvements in the delivery of health care on the ground and building public confidence in vaccines.
We are working in partnership with Covax to analyze supply chain capacities in low income countries to understand where we can bring our expertise and support the delivery of any Covid-19 vaccine, including supply and transport dry ice.
We work with the UPS Foundation, which donates freezers to countries that need help to develop their ultra-cold chain capacity.
And we’ve ‘taken off’ – in a four-year partnership with Zipline, we’re supporting a pilot initiative in Ghana focused on delivering vaccines to hard-to-reach areas using drones.
Managing Covid-19 and increasing immunization globally is a massive but achievable endeavor and we are firmly committed to ensuring equitable and affordable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
However, distinguishing vaccine production is a distraction from the real challenges and solutions needed to improve global immunization levels.
The same goes for calls for a waiver of travel (commercial aspects of intellectual property rights). With vaccine production reaching unprecedented levels, a Trips waiver will not solve the main challenges of increasing immunization globally.
Karen O’Keeffe is Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Pfizer Ireland