A Question of Life & Death?

Covid-19 Vaccines: A Question of Life & Death – Is the TRIPS Waiver a potential solution to the pandemic and is it an opportunity to prioritise morality and compassion instead of Big Pharma flexing an unquenchable thirst for profits. 

Read our first article on the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccine equity. 

Over the course of two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has occupied the minds of society the world over. Living in a well-developed nation that is part of the European Union, such as; Ireland, has its benefits not just in terms of the daily privilege in terms of our living standards in contrast to developing nations. Specifically, the life-saving access individuals in Irish society have had by way of obtaining a Covid-19 vaccine. 

After 20 – 22 months of living in an isolated world, captive by a virus that inevitably led to multiple fatalities, lockdowns and individuals confined to a 5-kilometre travel limit from their place of residence, the future felt reasonably bleak but eerily uncertain.

Photo by Zoe on Unsplash

Families lost loved ones, friends and neighbours stood outside their front doors, as processions made their way to the local empty church. Unable to celebrate the spirit of life. Funerals, weddings, milestones were all impacted by the all-consuming virus and the reactive measures implemented by the government based upon public health advice inevitably led to social isolation.

Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

People in various industries, such as; live entertainment, hospitality, aviation, publicans, entrepreneurs, small and medium-size businesses were some of the worst-hit in Irish society. 

However, a return to the ‘new normal’ e.g some semblance of normality reminiscent of our pre-pandemic society, thankfully became a reality with the successful rollout of the vaccine across Ireland. Although in recent weeks, the country has faced its highest number of daily cases numbers, there is an air of optimism in the sense that no major restrictions have been reintroduced and recently a number of restrictions pertinent to socialising were lifted after the successful rollout of the booster vaccine campaign and as we move ever closer to herd immunity.

The little hope and fortune provided to Irish citizens and citizens in much of the developed world with the rollout of national vaccination campaigns, will not be a reality for some of the poorest nations in the world for the foreseeable. 

Reasons Why – 

Lack of supply is inevitably impacting developed nations access to vaccines. Agreements that are in place between US and UK governments and Big Pharma and much of the developed world ensure sufficient supply for those who want a vaccine. The wealthiest nations in the world are able to avail of a constant supply of vaccines as they have both the resources to afford vaccines and most pharmaceutical companies will have a base in these wealthy nations, so the government and public health authorities will most likely have a contact working in one of these vaccine producers.

The reliance on the charity sector to provide vaccines in the developing world as illustrated by the Unicef Campaign, which relies on donations from the public, is most definitely beneficial. Even the UN gave their backing to this program along with the WHO, who co-leads with CEPI and Gavi. Public donations are a kind gesture and life-saving for some, however, it can be argued the campaign merely covers over the cracks. Is there a better way or how can we bolster this campaign’s overarching mission in order to address vaccine equity and ensure sufficient supply is available in the developing world for anyone who wants a vaccine? 

The absence of vaccines in much of the developing world is thought to be a contributory factor that has led to mutations/ variants, which are only expected to become more frequent in the future, due to vaccine inequality. Fear and scarcity drove trends linked with fueling vaccine nationalism.  

Public Funding for Vaccines Developed – 

Ponder the public funding for Covid-19 vaccines developed by private enterprise who avail of indemnity, so just pure profits as they have a patent monopoly. As reported in The Guardian “At least 97% of the funding for the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has been identified as coming from taxpayers or charitable trusts.” 

The seeming efficacy of vaccines, the rate of recovery from infection in conjunction with the seemingly less severe Omicron variant of Covid-19 has seen Irish society resume some form of normality with the removal of a host of public health restrictions, as we venture into a new phase of living with Covid-19. As case numbers, Covid-19 admissions into hospitals and ICU numbers stabilise it seems apparent that we have ‘weathered the storm’ for want of a better cliche. Although, the WHO has recently warned the pandemic is not over amid record cases in Europe. 

The Guardian reported in September of 2021 that according to the UK figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which indicated the success of the vaccine rollout in terms of its impact on mortality. Fully vaccinated people accounted for just 1.2% of all deaths involving Covid-19 in the first seven months of 2021 in the United Kingdom. The figures detailed that 51,281 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in England between January 2nd and July 2nd, which included people who had been infected before they were vaccinated. As detailed in the findings 458 (0.8%) were of people who died at least 21 days after their second dose. 0.5% (256 deaths) were of people who were both fully vaccinated and had their first positive PCR test at least 14 days after their second dose. 

Médecins Sans Frontières

The vaccine, good sanitation and personal hygiene measures are a necessity in order to combat the virus, as it would seem the battle to suppress the virus without a strategic combination of all would be an apparent failure and lead to an untold number of unnecessary deaths. The prevalent and most dominant strain in the United Kingdom last year was the Delta variant, which was estimated at 94%. A breakdown of ‘breakthrough’ cases showed three-quarters of those who died were clinically extremely vulnerable. 

Covax delivered its one billionth dose of the Covid vaccine, which landed in Rwanda on January 15th 2022. The milestone for Covax had been to deliver 2 billion vaccines by the end of 2021.  However, the campaign has come under some harsh criticism by a number of outlets, such as The Guardian, STAT News and BBC News. Most doses go to poor countries but some go to wealthier countries, for example; Canada has defended its right to access via Covax. Canada had already made an agreement and secured sufficient allocation of vaccines for their whole population, however, similar to Singapore and New Zealand, Canada had sought to obtain the early allocation. 

The Gates Foundation is a funder of both Gavi and CEPI, who are both non-profits involved with the Covax campaign. Notably, Bill Gates until recently was a strong proponent of Intellectual Property (IP) and specifically was involved with Covax maintaining Big Pharma’s hold their IP on the vaccine and a notable critic of the Covid-19 Intellectual Property waiver.

Potential Solution: Covid-19 Intellectual Property Wavier – 

On November 30th, the World Trade Organisation which consists of 159 nations, delegates and civil society were scheduled for their biannual meeting that was set to take place in Geneva, Switzerland. However, this was recently cancelled amid fears of the Omnicron strain of the Covid-19 virus. This meeting provided the opportunity to further pursue and advocate for access of Covid-19 vaccinations patents to the global south/ developing world. 

In 2020, a motion was proposed by India and South Africa to the World Trade Organisation. The motion was a patent waiver, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that would enable faster vaccine production, as a way to address vaccine inequality, Talks have been ongoing for over a year at the WTO and medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières recently called on a number of EU countries and other developed nations, such as; UK, Switzerland and Norway.

Live MapMédecins Sans Frontières

The central thesis of their argument is that controls of pricing and manufacturing vaccines are now restricted to Big Pharma but a waiver would allow for faster production by tapping into unused factories. The stockpiling of vaccines and pre-orders that were made by rich developed nations has led to many middle and low-income are way behind in comparison. 

Israel was the first country in the world to provide the Pfzier vaccine to their population and they were the first country to roll out a booster vaccine campaign. Other rich developed nations have vaccinated the majority of their population or are in the process of mandating vaccination. The waiver is supported by over 100 nations, yet they face much resistance by not only Big Pharma by way of the EU and aforementioned countries. 

Médecins Sans Frontières

The decisions taken by the leaders opposing this waiver are having a detrimental impact on those who need the vaccine the most in the developing world. 

Extraordinary times require extraordinary action. Inaction must provoke one’s moral judgement on this matter, as there is no time like the present. 

The only question for now is, if not now; when? 

Anonymous.

Solution: Get Involved –  

If you believe everyone should have protection from Covid-19, who wants a vaccine you can sign the European Citizens Initiative – 

Check out this visual interactive interpretation of the globe in terms of the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations globally created by Reuters.

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