At the recent Global Biopharma press briefing on COVID-19, held by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), industry leaders took on the issue of vaccine inequity, challenging the view that intellectual property waivers could be the answer.
13.7 billion doses of vaccines have been delivered and 11 billion administered to date (source: UNICEF) and according to IFPMA, more than 7.98 billion doses could be produced this year. Vaccine supplies outstrip the global demand to continue inoculation programs, but making sure vaccines reach all the world’s population equitably is still a major concern.
No one is safe until everyone is safe.
Thomas Cueni, director general of IFPMA
By stating that “no one is safe until everyone is safe,” Thomas Cueni, director general of IFPMA, expressed the organisation and its members’ will to contribute to vaccine equity.
IFPMA member companies claim they are doing this by increasing their production capacity. Specifically, these companies are set to produce more than half of this year’s vaccines, having put in place technology transfer agreements and scaled-up manufacturing with 372 partnerships and 51 manufacturing and production agreements made in developing countries (LICs and LMICs).
Bill Anderson, chief executive officer of Roche Pharmaceuticals said the industry was committed to equity and that Roche has demonstrated this commitment by lowering its prices by 40 percent for developing countries.
Causes of inequity
WHO set a target for all countries to vaccinate ten percent of their populations by the end of September 2021, but 56 countries effectively excluded from the global vaccine marketplace were not able to reach this target, most of them in Africa. According to IFPMA and its members, there are several causes behind this, but scarcity of vaccines and treatments is not one of them. “To continue to advocate that vaccine equity is caused by scarcity of vaccines due to a lack of technology transfer flies in the face of the facts,” said Cueni.
We remain steadfast in our verdict that the proposed World Trade Organization’s TRIPS waiver is a solution in search of a problem.
With Pfizer set to supply four million courses of its antiviral COVID treatment Paxlovid to UNICEF in 2022 and establish 36 manufacturing sublicences, the company’s CEO Albert Bourla claimed that one of the causes of vaccine inequity is the lack of infrastructure in developing countries. These countries, he said, are not always ready to absorb the vaccines they receive.
Participants also pinpointed vaccine nationalism, export bans and the late funding of COVAX as important factors influencing vaccine inequity and claimed that Intellectual Property (IP) is not at the root of the problem and IP waivers are not the solution.
“We remain steadfast in our verdict that the proposed World Trade Organization’s TRIPS waiver is a solution in search of a problem. It is a distraction and is misleading in its promise of equity for this pandemic. And it sends the wrong signal to innovators for future pandemics,” Cueni said.
For Eli Lilly and Company Chair and CEO David A. Ricks IP waivers would only be a strong incentive for pharma companies to hold on to their know-how and not share it. Anderson added that the industry was prepared for the COVID crisis because it had been making investments in innovation over the course of years. “IP waivers are toxic to that whole system,” he said.
Preparedness for future health crises
Another point the briefing’s participants agreed on was the importance of learning from the pandemic and that it should prepare society for future crises.
Bourla expressed his belief that society needs to maintain the strength of the life sciences sector and continue to forge public-private partnerships. Ricks mentioned the importance of running clinical trials rapidly and at a common global standard. “We need a global body to create a standard of care,” he said. Cueni spoke of the need for a crisis fund. Several of the participants proposed the creation of a pandemic treaty that would open borders and waive trade restrictions during health crises to address supply chain issues.
- COVAX, initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by the GAVI vaccine alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization, alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
- IFPMA: ifpma.org
IFPMA COVID-19 Information Hub: ifpma.org/covid19/