Why We Need a People’s Vaccine Right Now

A small group of rich nations have bought up more than half the future supply of leading COVID-19 vaccine contenders


Wealthy nations representing just 13 percent of the world’s population have already cornered more than half of the promised doses of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, Oxfam has warned. Oxfam analyzed the deals that pharmaceutical companies and vaccine producers have already struck with nations around the world for the five leading vaccine candidates currently in phase 3 clinical trials.

The international agency also warned that the same companies simply do not have the capacity to make enough vaccines for everyone who needs one. Even in the extremely unlikely event that all five vaccine candidates will pass the final testing stages, nearly two thirds of the world’s population will not have a vaccine until at least 2022. It’s far more likely some of these experiments will fail, leaving the number of people without access even higher.

The calculations expose a broken system that protects the monopolies and profits of pharmaceutical companies and favours wealthy nations, while artificially restricting production and leaving most of the world’s population waiting longer than necessary for a vaccine. The research to one of the leading vaccine candidates, developed by Moderna, has received $2.48 billion in committed taxpayer’s money. Despite this, the company has said it intends to make a profit from the vaccine and has sold the options for all of its supply to rich nations ―at prices that range from $12-16 per dose in the US to around $35 per dose for other countries― putting protection out of reach for many people living in poverty. While it may be making real efforts to scale up supply, according to reports, the company only has the capacity in place to produce enough for 475 million people, or 6 percent of the world’s population, Oxfam stressed.

Oxfam and other organizations across the world are calling for a “People’s Vaccine” ―available to everyone, free of charge and distributed fairly based on need. This will be possible, they say, if pharmaceutical companies ‘allow vaccines to be produced as widely as possible by freely sharing their knowledge free of patents, instead of protecting their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder’.

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At Commons Network, we stress that the knowledge that is used to create new medicines should be managed differently. Pharmaceutical companies should not even possess this knowledge to begin with. The knowledge that is used to create pharmaceutical innovations (such as vaccines) is by and large publicly created, by publicly funded schools and labs. This knowledge should be organised as a commons, not as a commodity. Right now, governments have to deliberate with pharmaceutical companies and negotiate for a low price on their drugs, or request a voluntary license. That should be the other way around: the public should license the knowledge to companies, while retaining the rights, so that this collectively produced knowledge stays in our collective ownership. This way companies can still develop medicines and vaccines, and even make a profit.

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Beyond the five leading vaccine candidates, reported vaccine deals also reveal stark inequalities between countries. The UK government has managed to secure deals on several leading vaccine candidates, equivalent to five doses per head of population. By contrast, Oxfam’s analysis reveals that Bangladesh has so far secured only one dose for every nine people.

There are also large differences in the willingness of pharmaceutical companies to set aside supply for poorer nations. While Moderna has so far pledged doses of its vaccine exclusively to rich countries, AstraZeneca has pledged two-thirds of doses to developing countries. Although AstraZeneca has done most to expand its production capacity by partnering with and transferring its technology to other manufacturers, it could still only supply up to 38 percent of the global population, and only half of this if its vaccine requires two doses.

The estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone worldwide is less than 1 percent of the projected cost of COVID-19 to the global economy. The economic case for requiring pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine knowledge free of patents so that production can be scaled up as fast as possible could not be clearer, the agency said. Nine COVID-19 vaccines are currently going through phase 3 clinical trials, of which supply deals have been made public for five. These vaccines are being developed by AstraZeneca, Gamaleya/Sputnik, Moderna, Pfizer and Sinovac.

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Oxfam calculated the combined production capacity of these five vaccine candidates at 5.94 billion doses, enough for 2.97 billion people given that all five future vaccines will or are highly likely to require two doses. Supply deals have already been agreed for 5.303 billion doses, of which 2.728 billion (51 percent) have been bought by developed countries including the UK, US, Australia, Hong Kong & Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel, as well as the European Union. The remaining 2.575 billion doses have been bought by or promised to developing countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico among others.

Included within the supply for developing countries are the 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine pledged to the Covax Advanced Market Commitment (AMC), the vaccine pooling mechanism. To avoid double counting, Oxfam has assumed the recent additional agreement between the AMC and the Serum Institute of India to ‘accelerate’ the production of 100 million AstraZeneca or Novavax vaccines is already captured within those companies’ respective supply deals with the Serum Institute.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a coalition of organizations and activists united under a common aim of campaigning for a People’s Vaccine for COVID-19 that is based on shared knowledge and is freely available to everyone, everywhere worldwide. The alliance is calling on pharmaceutical corporations to share all vaccine knowledge with other companies and research institutions, including through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), and is urging governments for effective policies to repair this broken system of biomedical research and development. Sign their petition here.

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The People’s Vaccine alliance is working on an open letter addressed to pharma bosses from Covid-19 survivors, people in high risk categories and people who have lost relatives to Covid-19. The letter will be launched next week and so they are hoping to get as many signatories from as many countries as possible! Do you know anyone who:
  • Has had Covid-19
  • Has lost a relative to Covid-19
  • Is in a high risk category
Please tell them to share these forms. The deadline is Sunday 27 September. There are English/ Spanish/ French versions of the form and the links are below:
E N G L I S H   –   S P A N I S H   –   F R E N C H

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