The Cost of Pharmaceutical Greed Will be More Lives If patents aren't suspended, the price may be too high for some.

Marilyn Regan

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It’s not a matter of if there will be a COVID-19 vaccine, and its distribution is imminent. The question now is, do you live in a country that can pay for it?

If not, you may have a longer wait than others living in a more affluent one.

There are over 100 vaccines in development with several in Phase 3, or human trial phases, but Prizer and Moderna are the two leaders in the race. And Pfizer has applied for emergency distribution.

But the distribution comes at a cost, and he who coughs up the most money gets the prize. In this case, a life-saving vaccine. The implications are enormous.

The cost of the COVID-19 vaccine could mean your life. Or that the pandemic continues so pharmaceutical companies can reap the benefits.

Just when does money become irrelevant? If a pandemic isn’t reason enough, then the answer is: never.

Doctors with Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers)

Doctors without Borders has issued a request to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to allow countries the choice not to “grant or enforce” patents to COVID-19 products during the pandemic. In other words, allow less expensive but effective generic versions to become available.

It also means other coronavirus drugs and diagnostic methods would be less expensive. This request was put forward by India and South Africa in October.

Dr. Sidney Wong, co-director of Doctors Without Borders Access Campaign, said that it is a matter of putting human lives above corporate profit.

Kenya and Eswatini joined India and South Africa in co-sponsoring the waiver. Ninety-nine countries are on board. However, many wealthy nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, and the European Union are not.

Another scenario is that the wealthy countries will buy what they need, less affluent will receive generic brands, and middle-income nations will be forced to pay higher prices.

However, there is no timeline for the development of generic brands as some pharmaceutical companies have blocked the production of more affordable and effective generic vaccines.

The Pharmaceutical Gain

Gilead has come under fire for its attempt to monopolize remdesivir, a generic drug that has proven beneficial against the coronavirus. Such a monopoly would exclude half the world’s population from receiving the vaccine at a lower cost.

Moderna has promised to not enforce its patent and to share all intellectual property on the COVID-19 vaccine. It has also shared its clinical trial data and other manufacturing information that would allow the public to calculate a fair price.

On the surface, this appears extremely magnanimous. 

However, Dana Gill, the US policy advisor with Doctor’s Without Borders Access Campaign, stated that we, the public, have financed Moderna with nearly $2.5B coming from the United States government. 

So they’re not doing us any favors. We’ve already paid!

Nearly 80 percent of the current, patented, vaccine supply has been sold to high-income countries, leaving the third world and underdeveloped countries in short supply.

History Repeating Itself

Twenty years ago, when HIV/AIDS epidemic was a crisis, certain countries suspended patents to allow affordable production of generic drugs. This is said to have saved millions of lives.

Unfortunately, millions of lives in developing countries were lost before the patents were suspended. 

COVID-19 is not on the decline and it has taken over 1.3M lives. Pharmaceutical companies are not going to voluntarily give up their profits. It's up to governments to step forward and suspend patents so that the vaccine is available to everyone. 

And affordable.

Equitable Access

Anthony Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, said that billions of vaccines need to be manufactured for the entire world.

The vaccine cannot be available to only the rich. And we need generic as well brand names to fill the quota so it is in the billions.

A patent is a government-issued monopoly on a product, and if they can grant one, they can refuse to do so and use their authority to suspend it. 

And the sooner, the better.

For the entire world.

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Marilyn is a writer, yogi, spiritual medium and animal lover. She is a Bostonian in every sense and has the accent to prove it. She loves the ocean, the outdoors, wine, and sleeping in. She days what she means and doesn't waste words. Finally, she is mother to one son, two cats and has three grandchildren.

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