In the global race for corona vaccines, developing countries in particular are currently at a disadvantage. When it comes to the planned supply of vaccines from manufacturers such as Astrazeneca or Johnson & Johnson, African countries in particular can only dream of the foreseeable supply rates that prevail in Europe, the USA and Canada. As a result, there are increasing demands for manufacturers to temporarily suspend their patent protection.
Such a move would boost production of the vaccine, which is currently proving to be a critical bottleneck. The general director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently highlighted how unevenly vaccines are currently distributed around the world. According to him, 39 million people in the industrialized nations had received a vaccine a week ago. In Africa, on the other hand, vaccination has so far been much lower. In Guinea, for example, vaccine was only given to several dozen people.
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Because the western industrialized countries have secured around half of the vaccines worldwide, the vaccination campaign is extremely slow, especially in Africa. In South Africa, the state most severely affected by the pandemic on the African continent, there are now more than 40,000 corona deaths. But the vaccinations have not yet started in the state on the Cape.
South Africa expects 20 million vaccine doses in the first half of the year
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced that South Africa is expecting delivery of 20 million vaccine doses in the first half of the year. However, according to information from the South African Ministry of Health, the country has to pay more than twice as much for the vaccine from the manufacturer Astrazeneca than, say, Europeans.
Covax initiative is intended to resolve the imbalance
The so-called Covax initiative, which is supported by the World Health Organization, Germany and the EU, is intended to change something about this imbalance. The South African government is betting on Covax to get enough vaccine doses between April and June to vaccinate ten percent of the population. The EU is faced with a dilemma in view of the Covax initiative: On the one hand, the EU Commission must first ensure the supply of vaccines in the 27 EU countries. But at the same time, deliveries to poorer regions of the world should also be made possible. That is why the EU is supporting Covax as the largest donor with a total of 850 million euros to date.
In the meantime, however, it has become clear worldwide that the real problem in supply lies with production capacities. The Serum Institute of India, which is currently one of the world’s most important production facilities for Astrazeneca’s corona vaccine, wants to provide the Covax initiative with 200 million vaccine doses. However, at the same time, the company is on the floor with the Indian government: Half of the production is to be reserved for the Indian market.
Greens politician von Holtz for the lifting of patent protection
Because the production capacities for promising vaccines are currently scarce, Ottmar von Holtz, rapporteur for global health issues in the Green parliamentary group, advocates rethinking. “We should talk about lifting the patent protection temporarily,” he told Tagesspiegel. This would mean that not only companies like Biontech / Pfizer, Moderna or Astrazeneca, but also other companies can produce promising vaccines. “Know-how must be transferred quickly so that the necessary production capacities can be built up quickly,” demanded von Holtz. In his opinion, tests and procedures should also be developed so that, given the comparatively low average age of the population in African countries, people under the age of 18 can soon be vaccinated.
MEP Bullmann wants to use WTO rules as a lever
While the successful vaccine developers are referring to the protection of intellectual property in the debate about a possible softening of patent protection, the SPD MEP Udo Bullmann sees the regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a lever for larger-scale vaccine production. According to Bullmann, there are possibilities within the framework of the WTO to obtain compulsory licensing. “These clauses have been included in the rules of the World Trade Organization, especially for emergencies such as pandemics,” said Bullmann. “In the current situation there must be no taboos,” said the MEP. “Now the time has come to make use of these exceptions where necessary – and to do so as quickly and unbureaucratically as possible.”