Vaccines Must Be Treated as Public Goods—Before It’s Too Late

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is now a vast global coalition of NGOs, states and UN agencies that favour the recognition of vaccines (and health in general) as a public good and not a business, and the consequent temporary suspension of patent rights.

Far beyond vaccines, this global movement is about the struggle for access to health for all, and for transparency and public control of public funds involved in the production of medicines and vaccines.

In turn, some 100 countries, led by India and South Africa, have already asked the World Trade Organization to suspend patent rights related to vaccines. These countries do not include the countries of the Global North. COVAX, the World Health Organisation’s initiative to ensure global access to the vaccine, is therefore doomed to failure.

Let us not forget that, according to data from the Corporate Europe Observatory, Big Pharma spends between 15 and 17 million euros a year to lobby EU decisions, and that the pharmaceutical industry as a whole has 175 lobbyists in Brussels working for the same purpose.

The scandalous lack of transparency in vaccine contracts is the result of this pressure. If Portugal wanted to give distinction and true cosmopolitan solidarity to its current presidency of the Council of the European Union, it has a good subject to choose here. All the more so if another Portuguese person, the UN Secretary General, has just called for health to be considered a global public good.

All indications are that, in this area as in others, the EU will continue to abdicate any global responsibility. Intending to remain glued to the global policies of the US, in this case it may be overtaken by America itself: the Biden administration is considering suspending the patents for a vaccine-relevant technology developed in 2016 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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