Release patents on vaccines? ‘Current vaccination apartheid is a moral fault’

There are too few coronavaccins to inoculate the whole world quickly. The United States is therefore seeking to remove the patent on coronavaccins. The EU also considers this option to be negotiable.

Biomedical expert Els Torreele would rather see the release of the patents happen yesterday than today. โ€œIn a pandemic, everyone is only safe when we tackle vaccination globally. So we should distribute the available doses much better and fairer,โ€ she says. According to Torreele, the production of vaccines needs to be significantly increased.

Release of patents on coronavaccins is not a solution to the global vaccine scarcity, writes the International Federation of Pharmaceuticals in a statement. โ€œTrade barriers, supply bottlenecks, a shortage of raw materials and the reluctance of rich countries to share their vaccines with poorer countries are the cause of the shortage,โ€ said the pharmaceuticals.

This is how the patent on a vaccine works:

According to Torreele, the problem is a lack of political will on the part of the rich countries who control the vaccines. โ€œThere is no political will to pressure the pharmaceuticals to share their recipes so that more vaccines can be made.โ€

She calls it the โ€œvaccination apartheid of rich countriesโ€. โ€œDiscrimination between people who have access to the vaccine and people who do not have it. In Africa, even people from the vulnerable groups are not getting a vaccine. The rich countries, the elites, will get the vaccine.โ€

The monopoly on production is the cause of this, says Torreele. โ€œWe have created a pharmaceutical business model, where the biggest incentive is that these companies have been granted a monopoly. There is a lot of money to earn in it. And that is more important than public health worldwide. So only those who put enough money on the table have access to the vaccines.โ€

Good opportunity

Hans Hogerzeil, emeritus professor of Global Health and former advisor to the WHO, agrees. โ€œAt some point, health is bothered by patents. I think the industry does not like it because of all the profits they can miss. And they are also afraid of precedent.โ€

However, he expects that the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has to decide on the proposal, will give the green light. โ€œAmericans have always blocked this. It is very important that they say ‘we are going to suspend this opinion’. Only Japan and the EU are often close to industry, and they were not in favour of it. But I can imagine that if even America is involved now, there is a good chance.โ€