Scathing open letter accuses big pharma of ‘exploiting’ publically funded vaccines and says humanity must come before commerce

By Sarah Johnson

The Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, former first lady of South Africa and Mozambique Graça Machel and former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon are among nearly 200 signatories to a letter calling on governments to “never again” allow “profiteering and nationalism” to come before the needs of humanity, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a scathing open letter, published on 11 March, current and former presidents and ministers, Nobel laureates, faith leaders, heads of civil society organisations and health experts say Covid-19 vaccines and treatments had been developed with public funding but that pharmaceutical companies had exploited them to “fuel extraordinary profits”.

Instead of distributing vaccines, tests and treatments based on need, companies sold doses to the “richest countries with the deepest pockets”, the letter says.

This inequity led to 1.3m preventable deaths worldwide – one every 24 seconds – in the first year of the Covid vaccine rollout alone, according to analysis based on a study published in the Lancet. “That those lives were not saved is a scar on the world’s conscience,” the letter continues.

Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, established by the World Health Organization (WHO), said even though publicly funded science had contributed to the success of Covid-19 vaccines, they weren’t treated as global common goods. “Rather, nationalism and profiteering around vaccines resulted in a catastrophic moral and public health failure which denied equitable access to all,” she said.

The letter, coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, comes on the third anniversary of the declaration by the WHO that the coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic.

Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vials of Covid-19 vaccine.
Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vials of Covid-19 vaccine. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Former and current leaders of 40 countries, including the former president of Malawi Joyce Banda, President José Manuel Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, are among the signatories, along with the archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Cecil Makgoba, and former heads of UN agencies.

Ramos-Horta said: “In the Covid-19 pandemic, those of us in low- and middle-income countries were pushed to the back of the line for vaccines and denied access to the benefits of new technologies. Three years on, we must say ‘never again’ to this injustice that has undermined the safety of people in every country.”

Signatories write that today, many low-income countries cannot access affordable treatments or tests. They say it is reminiscent of the response to the HIV and Aids epidemic, where millions died as expensive treatments were unaffordable for people in much of the world.

The letter urges world leaders to support a pandemic accord that is currently under negotiation at the WHO and treat publicly funded medicines as “global common goods … used to maximise the public benefit, not private profits”.

Link to article in The Guardian by Sarah Johnson



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