UK government has “thrown its money down a Valneva-shaped hole” campaigners say
Date: 14 September 2021
UK government has “thrown its money down a Valneva-shaped hole”, campaigners say
Scottish factory should have been used to boost public research and manufacturing- not industry profits
Campaigners have responded to news that the UK is cancelling its vaccine contract with Valneva by saying the failed deal represents a huge missed opportunity to help overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.
Global Justice Now has been advocating for more public research and manufacturing capacity, which could allow countries around the world to bypass corporate monopolies on new drugs.
They say that the patents which apply to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments have severely restricted supply, allowing rich nations to buy up the bulk of vaccines on the market while factories elsewhere lie idle, unable to produce the desperately needed doses.
The group is calling for countries to agree to override patents and allow more production, and to increase public manufacturing around the world. They claim the investment in Valneva could have been used to support such public manufacturing.
The secrecy around vaccine contracts, which have been a constant source of controversy throughout the pandemic, means it is nearly impossible for politicians and the media to hold the government to account for its use of public funds, the group says.
Liz Murray, Head of Scottish campaigns at Global Justice Now, said:
“This raises serious questions about the use of large amounts of public money to fund private pharmaceutical companies. A year ago the UK government dug deep into its coffers to promise Valneva €1.4 billion reportedly to upgrade its manufacturing facilities here in Scotland, as well as funding some of the R&D for its vaccine and pre-ordering many doses of the vaccine itself.
“Given what now seems to have happened, with the UK government cancelling the contract, wouldn’t a better use of that huge sum of public money have been to fund a publicly researched and manufactured vaccine?
“The current big pharma model keeps vaccine technology locked away behind patents and intellectual property rules, seriously undermining the supply of vaccines to the global south. A publicly funded vaccine could have avoided all of these problems, but the government has instead thrown its money down a Valneva-shaped hole. It’s a huge missed opportunity to vaccinate the world.”
Valneva is a biotechnology company that’s a vaccine specialist. It was founded in 2013 after the merger of a French and an Austrian company and is headquartered in Nantes in western France. It has a manufacturing base in Livingston in Scotland too and has invested in vaccine ‘fill and finish’ capacity in Sweden. Its Covid-19 vaccine (called VLA2001) is a two dose, inactivated whole virus vaccine. It’s the same technology that was used to produce the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines in China and India’s Bharat Biotech. Inactivated vaccine technology is longer established than the mRNA vaccines (eg Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech) and viral vector vaccines (eg Sputnik V and Oxford-AstraZeneca). It also conforms to standard cold-chain requirements, which makes it easier to store and distribute, and has a longer shelf life than many other types of vaccines.
The UK government gave Valneva funding for the upgrading of its vaccine manufacturing facilities in Livingston and for the early stage clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine is currently in phase three trials (4000 volunteers) with topline results reportedly expected by September 2021.
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