Vaccinating poorest half of humanity against COVID-19 could cost less than four months’ big pharma profits

Campaigns and Advocacy, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 14 May 2020

Vaccinating the poorest half of humanity – 3.7 billion people – against the COVID-19 coronavirus could cost less than the ten biggest pharmaceutical companies make in four months, Oxfam said today.

Ahead of the World Health Assembly next week, Oxfam is urging governments and pharmaceutical companies to guarantee that vaccines, tests, and treatments will be patent-free and equitably distributed to all nations and people.

The virtual meeting on Monday 18 May will be attended by health ministers from 194 countries, including Australia.

The Gates Foundation has estimated that the cost of procuring and delivering a safe and effective vaccine to the world’s poorest people is $25 billion. Last year, the world’s top ten pharmaceutical companies made $89 billion in profits – an average of just under $30 billion every four months.

Oxfam warned that wealthy countries and huge pharmaceutical companies – driven by national or private interests – could prevent or delay the vaccine from reaching vulnerable people, especially those living in developing countries.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said anything less than guaranteeing that a vaccine was made available to the world’s poorest people free of charge would be obscene.

“Vaccines, tests and treatments should be distributed according to need, not auctioned off to the highest bidder,” Ms Morgain said. “We need safe, patent-free vaccines, treatments and tests that can be mass produced worldwide, and a clear and fair plan for how they will be distributed.

“Providing a vaccine to 3.7 billion people could cost less than what the ten biggest pharmaceutical companies make in four months; this is achievable.

“Delivering an affordable vaccine for everyone will require unprecedented global cooperation. Governments must rip up the rulebook and prioritise the health of people everywhere, over the patents and profits of pharmaceutical corporations. Governments must ensure that no one is left behind.

“Oxfam welcomes the Australia Government’s pledge of $352 million to support testing, treatment and vaccine development, made as part of an EU-hosted virtual summit on 4th May, and the Prime Minister’s call for a safe vaccine that is available and affordable to all.”

Oxfam is calling on governments around the world, including in Australia, to use next week’s World Health Assembly to push for any coronavirus treatments or vaccines to be patent-free and accessible to all, and to deliver additional global vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity.

Oxfam is already on the ground in some of the poorest countries, like Yemen, Bangladesh, and Timor Leste, distributing essential supplies including personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene kits in response to the coronavirus crisis. We are also providing emergency materials and food to households, upgrading water and sanitation systems at refugee camps and health facilities, and continuing training and awareness-raising activities. You can donate to Oxfam’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal online.

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Notes to editor

Oxfam is proposing a four-point global plan that calls for:

  1. Mandatory sharing of all Covid-19 related knowledge, data and intellectual property, and a commitment to make all public funding conditional on treatments or vaccines being made patent-free and accessible to all.
  2. A commitment to deliver additional global vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity with funding from rich country governments. This means building factories in countries willing to share and investing now in the millions of additional health workers needed to deliver prevention, treatment, and care both now and in the future.
  3. A globally agreed, equitable distribution plan with a locked-in fairness formula so that supply is based on need, not ability to pay. Vaccines, treatments, and tests should be produced and supplied at the lowest cost possible to governments and agencies, ideally no more than $2 a dose for a vaccine, and provided free at the point of delivery to everyone that needs it.
  4. A commitment to fix the broken system for the research and development of new medicines. The current system puts pharmaceutical profit above the health of people across the world meaning many needed put unprofitable medicines never get developed, and those that do are too often priced out of reach for the poorest countries and people.