New polls show G7 populations back sharing vaccine know-how

Majority in G7 nations believe governments should prevent pharmaceutical companies from holding monopoly on COVID vaccines, new poll says.

A municipal health worker injects an AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in Maria de Souza Tavares, 78, during a vaccination day in Manaus, Brazil [Bruno Kelly/Reuters]

A majority of people in G7 countries believe that governments should ensure pharmaceutical companies share the formulas and technology of their vaccines, according to new polling from the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

In a briefing on Wednesday, the alliance said that an average of seven in 10 people across G7 countries want the government to ensure vaccine know-how is shared, the poll said.

Respondents were asked whether they believe that pharmaceutical companies should be fairly compensated for developing vaccines, but should not hold a monopoly on the vaccines.

A total of 74 percent in the United Kingdom want the government to prevent monopolies, with those from all political backgrounds supporting intervention.

Support for government intervention was highest in Italy with 82 percent of respondents in favour, followed by Canada where 76 percent agree.

In the United States, 69 percent of the public support the measure, while in Japan 58 percent agree with the action.

European Union member countries are also in favour, with support from 70 percent in Germany and 63 percent in France, according to the poll.

The polling was published as members of the G7 meet in London, with a final day of formal talks on Wednesday. The G7 members, comprising of the UK, US, Japan, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, will try to agree on a way to make coronavirus vaccines available around the globe in the long term.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed on the need for a global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to end the pandemic.

“The Prime Minister and Secretary Blinken agreed that the global roll out of vaccines will be key to defeating the coronavirus pandemic,” Johnson’s office said in a statement. “They underlined the importance of G7 work in this area, including efforts to increase international manufacturing capability.”

Separately on Wednesday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet remotely, where members will discuss a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for producing coronavirus vaccines for the duration of the pandemic.

Sponsors of the plan, originally submitted by South Africa and India, argue that it would enable more locations to produce coronavirus vaccines without breaking international rules under the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

But the proposal has been blocked by countries including the US, UK, Japan, Canada and the EU. The US has confirmed it is reconsidering opposition to the waiver.

Pharmaceutical companies have so far refused to share their vaccine know-how and have argued that a waiver would harm innovation.

The WTO meeting comes as India battles a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, which has left morgues and hospitals overwhelmed amid shortages of medical oxygen and beds.

The world’s second most populous country has confirmed more than 20 million infections, although the figure is believed to be a vast undercount. More than 220,000 people have died.

The surge, which some experts believe is driven by new variants of the virus, including one first discovered in India, has left sufferers dying in ambulances and car parks.

The WHO has said that the Indian variant has so far spread to 17 nations.

“The horrific situation in India should shake G7 leaders to their core,” Saoirse Fitzpatrick, the advocacy manager of STOPAIDS, said in a statement.

“Now is not the time for an ideological defence of intellectual property rules. Bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies have not worked. Governments need to step in and force pharmaceutical companies to share their intellectual property and vaccine know-how with the world.”

As G7 chair, the UK has proposed a Pandemic Preparedness Plan, to be discussed by ministers this week, which ignores the issue of monopolies and intellectual property. Pharmaceutical corporations such as Pfizer are on the team preparing the proposal, but developing country governments and vaccine producers have not been asked to join, Amnesty said.

“G7 governments have clear human rights obligations to put the lives of millions of people across the world ahead of the interests of the pharmaceutical companies that they have funded,” Steve Cockburn, head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said.

“It would be a gross failure of leadership to continue blocking the sharing of life-saving technologies, and would only serve to prolong the immense pain and suffering caused by this pandemic.”

In April, 175 former world leaders and Nobel laureates, including Gordon Brown, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Francois Hollande in an open letter, urged US President Joe Biden to support the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

Leading health experts from around the world have warned the slow rollout of vaccines and unequal distribution could mean the vaccine shots will become ineffective as new coronavirus mutations appear among unvaccinated populations.

Independent SAGE, which provides independent public health advice in the UK, has also called for a patent waiver.

The pharmaceutical companies that produce coronavirus vaccines have received billions in public funding and guaranteed pre-orders, including $12bn from the US government alone. An estimated 97 percent of funding for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine came from public sources, Amnesty said.

“The companies have paid out a combined $26bn in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders this year, enough to vaccinate at least 1.3 billion people, equivalent to the population of Africa.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies