The West First

Human rights organizations criticize western obstruction of Covid-19 vaccine supply to poorer countries.

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - Germany and the EU should stop obstructing measures for supplying poorer countries with Covid-19 medicine and vaccines, human rights organizations are demanding prior to the General Council Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which begins today. Wealthy western states have obstructed India's and South Africa's proposal of suspending intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines for the duration of the pandemic. Should the WTO adopt this proposal, poorer countries could independently produce the desperately needed but scarce vaccine. Already in advance, the transatlantic West, Germany included, had reserved 85 percent of the production - much more than it needs for its own populations. The developing countries have been left nearly empty handed. Unlike in the past, they do, however, receive vaccines from Russia and China. In view of the political consequences, at least some of the surplus doses of vaccine should be provided and this should be "well communicated," it was suggested in Berlin.

85 Percent for the Rich

Since the rich countries have secured most of the production for themselves, special measures are needed to provide poorer countries access to the desperately needed medicine and particularly vaccines against Covid-19. According to an analysis by Citi Research, 85 percent of the preordered vaccines have already been reserved for the affluent countries.[1] They will receive more than they need for their own populations. Already in November, the United States, with a population of only 330 million, had ordered up to 2.6 billion doses - enough for at least 1.3 billion people.[2] This is not a new phenomenon. The US periodical Foreign Affairs recalled recently, that in 2009 a vaccine was developed in just seven months against the "swine flu." But wealthy countries bought up virtually all the supplies of the vaccine. The World Health Organization had to intervene to motivate some of them to share at least ten percent of their vaccines with poorer countries.[3] "Most people, who seek vaccination in the transatlantic West, may be vaccinated in the course of 2021," whereas the people in the poorer countries have to wait until at least the end of 2022, Citi Research predicts.[4]

Poorer Countries Against the West

The proposal, currently tabled for discussion in the WTO. was initially submitted by South Africa and India on October 2nd, and has since been co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Pakistan, Mozambique and Bolivia. The proposal calls for a waiver of certain intellectual property rights as defined in the TRIPS Agreement for the duration of the pandemic. Those poorer countries, which have no research capabilities of their own, but production capacity for medicines and vaccines, should thus be enabled to produce the means needed to fight the pandemic - whose patents have been secured by powerful pharmaceutical companies - and to distribute them outside the rich western world. The proposal is supported by most of the poorer countries but vigorously rejected by Western countries - especially the USA, the EU, Switzerland and Great Britain, where the relevant Western pharmaceutical companies are headquartered. Last Thursday, following several discussions on the proposal, the relevant WTO committee ("TRIPS Council") postponed the decision to the next formal meeting (March 10-11, 2021).[5] Since time is running out, a special meeting was proposed for January or perhaps February.

Support from Russia and China

Whereas western countries are obstructing access to vaccines, Russia, and especially China, have begun to cooperate with countries outside the transatlantic world. At the end of November, for example, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) announced that Hetero Drugs, one of India's leading generic pharmaceutical companies, will produce under license over 100 million doses per year of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.[6] Sputnik V is also due to be produced in Brazil, South Korea and China and be supplied to other countries, including Egypt (25 million doses) and Venezuela (10 million doses). Chinese vaccines will also be produced in several countries, with five vaccines now available in the People's Republic of China, and capable of being produced in greater quantities than Sputnik V. Sinovac, for example, has licensed Indonesia's Bio Farma Company - with which it had cooperated during the test phases of its CoronaVac vaccine - to produce the vaccine and supply Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Jakarta has already received 1.2 million doses, which are due to be administered at the beginning of 2021. One of Sinopharm's vaccines will be produced under license by the United Arab Emirates' Group 42 (G 42) - between 75 and 100 million doses also for distribution to other Arabian Gulf states in the coming year. China will also be supplying various countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, including Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines, along with Turkey. The first deliveries have already arrived.

Do Nothing, "Communicate Well"

The delivery and production of Russian and Chinese vaccines under license are all the more important, in light of the fact that the international Covax platform, which was supposed to acquire vaccines for distribution to poorer countries, is, in fact, about to fail. Covax was to buy next year at least 2 billion doses - a drop in the bucket, when considering that the initiative intends to supply 90 poorer nations with a total population of 3.9 billion.[7] Nearly 8 billion doses would be needed. So far, Covax has received firm commitments for a mere 200 million doses. These are to be produced by India's Serum Institute, the world's largest producer of vaccines, which will produce the vaccine developed by Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca - the only one in the western world - will make its vaccine available on a cost basis until the pandemic "is over," which it has stipulated to be July 31, 2021.[8] That the wealthy West has forsaken poorer countries in hard times is nothing new; what is new is that other countries can come to their aid. In light of the predictable political consequences, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) urges that steps be taken to limit the damage. Germany should give at least a portion of its surplus doses of vaccine to Covax, and "it should communicate that well," thereafter.[9]

Rhetoric and Practice

While Berlin is searching for options, to halt the shift of political loyalties away from the West toward Russia and China, human rights organizations are voicing sharp criticism of the WTO's blockage of the suspension of the intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. In its statement published yesterday, Amnesty International declared that the pandemic is "a global emergency." At the WTO's General Council Meeting, which begins today, Germany and the EU should campaign for "the suspension of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments for the duration of the pandemic and until everyone is protected, as India and South Africa demand."[10] "Publicly" there is always "talk of international solidarity," while, in practice, "too little" is done for poorer countries. Amnesty International is one of the organizations, whose reports and judgments the western powers like to quote whenever they help to legitimize political aggressions against opposing states. However, when Amnesty or other human rights organizations criticize what the West is doing, there is usually no reaction - like in the conflict over the deprivation of the necessary vaccines for the poorer, non-western areas of the world.

 

[1] Yen Nee Lee: When will the world reach 'herd immunity'? Citi economists weigh in. cnbc.com 24.11.2020.

[2] Saeed Shah: Developing Nations Push for Covid-19 Vaccines Without the Patents. wsj.com 17.11.2020.

[3] Thomas J. Bollyky, Chad P. Bown: The Tragedy of Vaccine Nationalism. Only Cooperation Can End the Pandemic. In: Foreign Affairs September/October 2020. P. 96-109. See also Die "Geopolitik des Impfstoffs".

[4] Yen Nee Lee: When will the world reach 'herd immunity'? Citi economists weigh in. cnbc.com 24.11.2020.

[5] Members to continue discussion on proposal for temporary IP waiver in response to COVID-19. wto.org 10.12.2020.

[6] India To Produce 100 Million Doses Of Sputnik Vaccine: Russia. ndtv.com 27.11.2020.

[7] Saeed Shah: Developing Nations Push for Covid-19 Vaccines Without the Patents. wsj.com 17.11.2020.

[8] Ronald Labonte, Mira Johri: COVID-19 drug and vaccine patents are putting profit before people. theconversation.com 05.11.2020.

[9] Maike Voss: Globale Impfstoffverteilung: Zu kleiner Kuchen, ungleiche Stücke. swp-berlin.org 08.12.2020.

[10] Corona-Krise: EU darf nicht weiter weltweite Impfstoffverteilung erschweren. amnesty.de 15.12.2020.