Let’s start with the end: Vaccines against Covid-19 are working and their effects can already be felt at the hospitalization level in Portugal. Mass vaccination is therefore the urgent goal to fight the pandemic. What should we do to achieve this? I want to talk about that.
Vaccines are already saving lives in our country and the world, but their scarcity still leaves millions of people defenseless. In Portugal, as in most of the world, vaccines reach droppers. The national vaccination schedule against Covid-19 will at best be half as high as forecast for the first quarter of this year.
The problem is not the lack of orders, as has been repeated several times. On the contrary, we could even accuse some countries of wanting to collect vaccines, such as the amounts given out by pharmaceutical companies. The European Union ordered 3.5 cans per inhabitant, the USA 3.7, Japan 2.3 or the UK 5.5 cans per inhabitant. And those orders came long before the vaccines were tested and / or approved by the relevant health authorities. It should also be noted that the drug companies accepted large payments when they signed the calendar for the delivery of the hundreds of millions of doses that are now arriving late.
If the problem isn’t on the demand side, it’s obvious that it’s on the supply side. Pharmaceutical companies complain about the lack of production capacity. The pace at which vaccines are being manufactured is far from what has been contractually agreed and even more than required worldwide. Is it possible to produce in larger quantities?
The previous question deserves two different answers. First, it is doubtful that pharmaceutical companies are doing their best to deliver what they promised, as it appears that there are parallel sales that give priority to those who are willing to pay more in the market. Production capacity is at the limit. Second, several factories from other economic groups are already available to participate in the production effort. According to experts, the global production capacity for vaccines is surplus and is not being used for this urgency. What is missing is the exchange of technology to multiply production facilities and thus reach billions of people who need to be vaccinated faster.
We have already realized that exchanging pharmaceutical technology is not their intent. Patents are the guarantee of monopoly and profit cannot be questioned even if it is a pandemic. For these multinational companies, however, there has been no risk investing in vaccine development and testing. Regardless of the effectiveness of the vaccines, there has been a lot of public investment and a guarantee to buy. Citizens pay but not order. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Contrary to what they say, industrial property legislation doesn’t keep states handcuffed. For more than a hundred years, situations like the one in which we faced a disaster have helped to incorporate acts such as mandatory licensing into this legislation when the public interest is at stake or public health concerns. There is political will, we are not condemned to this lack of vaccines.
The Portuguese Government, which presides over the Council of the European Union, can and must take the lead in the debate that will free up vaccination patents, dramatically increase production, multiply that capacity worldwide and enable rapid vaccination of the entire population of the world. Will António Costa hear the appeal from António Guterres or the WHO? Human lives are worth more than the profits of pharmaceutical companies.
Researcher Teresa Summavielle presented a figure for future pandemics that we now know could lurk: 45 million euros. This is the investment that would be required to manufacture a vaccine in Portugal. And, the scientist assures us, our country has “absolute capacity for development”. Good news for the future, let us know how to prevent and not cure. Are there any more important public investments than this?
The author writes according to the new orthographic convention