Suspend patents on Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, say campaigners

Monday, 9 November, 2020

Reacting to reports that early phase 3 trials of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine have been 90% successful, Heidi Chow, pharmaceuticals campaigner at Global Justice Now said: 

“It’s positive news that Pfizer may have found an effective Covid-19 vaccine, but right now it will only be for the few. We need governments to step in and make it available for the many – including by suspending patent rights.  

"If we continue to leave everything to the market, it will artificially restrict the number of doses the world can produce. As it stands, Pfizer and BioNTech can only produce 50 million doses for 2020 and 1.3bn for 2021 – this is a two-dose vaccine, that means only 25 million can receive it this year and just 650 million people next year.  

"This is nowhere near enough to meet global demand, especially when most of these doses have already been hoarded by rich countries through advanced purchase deals leaving nothing for lower income countries. We are heading towards artificially created scarcity for this vaccine which is completely unacceptable in a global pandemic.  

"Pfizer and BioNTech need to share this vaccine with the world, not hoard it for profit. That should mean putting it into the WHO’s global pool so that the technological know-how and patent rights are shared to enable multiple manufacturers to produce it as fast as possible. (1) Since they won’t, the World Trade Organisation needs to act to suspend patents on all Covid-19 medicines, as South Africa and India have proposed. (2) This is a race against time and we cannot allow the pursuit of profit to triumph over human need."

Unlike their competitors Astra-Zeneca, Johnson and Johnson and GSK, the companies have made no pledges not to profit from this vaccine during the pandemic, despite BioNTech receiving public funding from the German government and the EU.(3) 

Notes
1. WHO COVID-19 technology access pool

2. WHO patent pool for potential Covid-19 products is ‘nonsense’, pharma leaders claim, Telegraph, 29 May 2020. 

India, South Africa ask WTO to waive off patents, intellectual property protection for faster COVID-19 care access, Business Today, 9 October 2020. 

3. Public money received on this vaccine:  

BioNTech to Receive up to €375M in Funding from German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to Support COVID-19 Vaccine Program BNT162

European Investment Bank to provide BioNTech with up to €100 million in debt financing for COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing

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