The great challenge posed by mass vaccination of the world’s population highlights certain problems in its development. Since the vaccination began to date, the world has vaccinated 2.25% of the world’s population, some numbers that may seem ridiculous if we take into account that immunity targets are at a rate of 70%.
Developing countries are vaccinating the least, and developed countries are experiencing higher rates. For example in The United States has already reached a percentage of 16% and the European Union conforms to 4.80% (Spain 5%).
With this rhythm, and if there are no surprises, in the EU we should reach 70% of the adult population by August and its most vulnerable demographic over 65s as of the end of April. The United States, since it is ahead, should reach the target in July.
Because developed countries are richer, they are more likely to reach their goals more immediately. In fact, South America has only vaccinated 1.79% of the population and Africa 0.11%. They not only exacerbate the price problem but also the problem of poor health infrastructure that slows down vaccination programs.
And the problem is not minor. For example, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria each have populations ranging from 200 to 330 million inhabitants. Brazil is the richest country in this group and has only vaccinated 2.46% of the population, followed by Indonesia whose vaccination incidence is 0.55%. If we approach it as a global problem, current estimates project that in seven years the world would have vaccinated enough.
Data on vaccine purchases compiled by the American Duke Institute documents the failure. As a sample, the highest income countries of the OECD, with only 17% of the world’s population, 60% of the available annual vaccine production has been reserved for mid-January 2021.
Figures from vaccine deployment have underscored concerns about inequitable access. On February 8, 2021, Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker reported that of the more than 131 million doses that had been administered in 73 countries, 78% (more than 102.48 million doses) were administered in the States. The United States, China, the EU and the United Kingdom. On February 5, the WHO reported that 130 countries still had to administer a single dose of vaccine.
For low- and middle-income countries, a total of 92, especially in Africa and Asia, are incorporated into the program Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to vaccinate only 20% of its population by the end of 2021. That is its only alternative.
In principle, Covax should have available and be able to distribute 336 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the first and second quarters of 2021. This quantity distributed in the first phase will cover on average only 3.3% of the total population included in the program.
Based on the comments, global vaccination is expected to be slow. Y is that there are many stones on the road: Vaccine production capacity, coupled with Johnson & Johnson’s subsequent approval of the one-dose vaccine, logistical challenges with distribution and administration, and last but not least, people’s willingness to get vaccinated.
And it is at this point, in the production capacity of vaccines, that we will focus the analysis Could it be increased? The answer is yes, there is only one problem, patent licenses, which offer the exclusivity of production / exploitation of a drug by a single company.
This exclusivity is a monopoly granted by the State and its most immediate consequence affects a limited production and higher price than in circumstances of full liberalization for massive production. And that is the debate, if we want mass vaccination and lower income countries are going to have a hard time reaching those goals. One thing to keep in mind is that the world’s three largest manufacturers only produce vaccines for approximately 1.5% of the world’s population.
Should these patents be abolished?
In October of last year India and South Africa proposed at a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that intellectual property rights related to coronavirus vaccines will be waived for a temporary period.
It’s more, There are two ways to remove the patent exclusivity. The first would be a total exemption, which translates into a special release that would force vaccine manufacturers to renounce their patent rights, which can only be decided unanimously. The second route would be through a compulsory license, which would enforce the release of the license only for a specific purpose and period of time, without permanently depriving manufacturers of their patent rights.
In this way, the supply process and global vaccination would be expedited. However, there are notable difficulties of great relevance. The first, and most important, is lack of will. The reality is that few countries control the World Trade Organization and are those that have already been awarded vaccines as a priority. As is logical, they will not attack the property rights of those who provide the solution to their health-economic problem.
From here it is time to assess the risks. Should patents be abolished, the great concern is how incentives on medical innovation would be affected, that is, a potential greater vulnerability to future diseases or pandemics. Let’s think about diseases like Alzheimer’s that have been devoted to decades, and billions of dollars, without today supplying a solution and therefore a return on investment.
This risk would be reduced by a total of 214 Covid-19 vaccine projects around the world. Of these, 52 are in clinical trials and 13 are in the most advanced phase of testing. Seven have been approved for limited or emergency use in various countries. This means that, in principle, we would go to a competitive market with many approved vaccines.
But the key word is time. More time developing vaccines or manufacturing existing ones for their supply means facing various waves of infections and more lives lost that would be accompanied by restrictions with an obvious and notable economic impact in sectors that cannot adapt to the pandemic reality. Under this approach, the abolition of patents seems necessary to achieve full vaccination in the shortest possible time.
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