Campaigners respond to report of UK slowing down progress to overcome pharma monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines

Wednesday, 13 May, 2020

In response to BBC Newsnight report, UK campaigners and patients call for concrete commitments on access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Last night’s BBC Newsnight (14 May) reported on the barriers that could prevent fair access to potential COVID-19 vaccines, including the UK’s role in slowing down progress to overcome pharmaceutical monopolies in negotiations ahead of a crucial World Health Organisation meeting on Monday. 

In response, campaigners are urgently calling on the government to impose conditions on UK funding to ensure all publicly funded COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are patent-free. This means that licenses must be non-exclusive, royalty free, transparent and worldwide. 

The government states it has committed £544 million [1] to the research and development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and yet this money lacks conditions to safeguard access and affordability to ensure any discovery reaches all who need it, especially the most vulnerable. 

The UK has contributed significant amounts of tax-payer money researching COVID-19 vaccines, including £24.6 million towards UK research projects [2] contributing to twenty-five university-based projects in the UK as well as the public research institution Public Health England.[3]  With a total commitment of £250 million [4] the UK is one of the largest donors to the global vaccine platform, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI).

Ruling out pharmaceutical monopolies will prevent corporate profiteering and price gouging and will be necessary to enable mass production at a scale that will be required by global demand. It will also enable other researchers to build on the knowledge and technologies that arise from publicly funded research to speed up progress towards finding a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Natalie Rhodes, Campaigner at UAEM UK said

“We’re calling on all universities to uphold the principles of equitable access to the products of medical innovation by ensuring that any and all licensing agreements for COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines developed at universities are non-exclusive, transparent, worldwide, royalty free and contain strong access and affordability conditions.”

Tabitha Ha, Advocacy Manager at STOPAIDS said:

“It is a shame that the UK government was initially cautious about sharing critical know-how and information for the development and supply of a vaccine at the international level. It seems that their position has changed and we hope that this will be reflected in a new global agreement on COVID-19 at the World Health Assembly in a few days time. This agreement must ensure that governments go beyond the rhetoric of equitable access and agree to set up mechanisms that will deliver the widest possible access to an affordable COVID-19 vaccine. This must include the mandatory pooling of rights to all COVID-19 knowledge and technologies.”  

Heidi Chow, Campaigner at Global Justice Now said:

“No one disputes that research funding for a COVID-19 vaccine is urgently needed but public funding must come with conditions to ensure that a publicly-funded vaccine is patent-free. Pharmaceutical monopolies prevent patient access to essential medicines at the best of times but in the current pandemic, public health must come before profiteering. A COVID-19 vaccine should be a global public good, affordable for all countries and free to the public and to achieve this, it needs to be patent-free.”

Diarmaid McDonald, Lead Organiser Just Treatment:

“Drug company monopolies should never prevent patients from getting access to the medicines and vaccines that they need. With the world facing an unprecedented health crisis it would be totally unacceptable for drug companies to take taxpayer-funded research into tools to fight COVID-19 and use it to turn monopoly profits at the expense of patients’ health. The U.K. should be very proud of its role funding and undertaking some of the most important research taking place on this virus in the world. But we need to tie public funding to commitments on transparency, openness and affordability. And if drug companies refuse, we must be prepared to override their monopolies to protect the lives of patients in the NHS and across the world.”

 

Notes

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-pledges-544-million-to-find-coronavirus-vaccine

[2] https://www.ukri.org/news/covid-19-research-boosted-by-new-projects/

[3] https://www.ukri.org/news/covid-19-research-boosted-by-new-projects/

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-leads-way-as-nations-endorse-landmark-pledge-to-make-coronavirus-vaccines-and-treatments-available-to-all

 

List of organisations publishing this statement: 

STOPAIDS
Global Justice Now

Just Treatment

Universities Allied for Essential Medicines UK