Pressure is on companies and governments to produce a vaccine that is affordable and available to all—and provided free to the poorest countries.
As pharmaceutical firms and governments rush to create a coronavirus vaccine, many are wondering when it will be available, how much it will cost, and how we can ensure equitable access to all countries. Will pharmaceutical companies developing and producing the vaccine make it available to all at an affordable price? Or will companies and governments make it available only to those willing to pay, excluding the poorest and most vulnerable people?
“Lifesaving vaccines, tests, and treatments shouldn’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Abby Maxman, president and CEO of Oxfam America. “Governments must ensure that corporations are putting people over profits.”
During the virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly, Oxfam warns that rich countries and well-connected drug companies seeking to profit from the pandemic could prevent or delay a vaccine from reaching disadvantaged people—in developing countries or even in the US.
Oxfam is asking companies and governments to make the vaccine free at the point of delivery, free of monopoly control by companies, and delivered to those most in need, be that in the US or anywhere in the world.
The cost of supplying a vaccine to the poorest half of the world’s people, about 3.7 billion, should cost about $25 billion, according to the Gates Foundation. Last year the top 10 pharmaceutical companies made $89 billion in profits—an average of just under $30 billion every four months, thanks in part to billions in tax cuts, investment in lobbying, and taxpayer-supported research. Vaccinating the poorest half of humanity against the coronavirus could cost less than the equivalent of four months of profits of the 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies.
Health care fights poverty
Oxfam has advocated for better access to health care and affordable medication in poor countries for decades. In 2001-2002, Oxfam helped the South African government defend itself in a legal case brought by drug companies looking to enforce patents for expensive drugs the government needed to treat 4.7 million people. Oxfam, our ally the Treatment Action Campaign, and others helped South Africa assert its right to source affordable generic drugs. With allies, Oxfam also won key victories to ensure that trade rules allow people around the world to access affordable medicines.
More recently, Oxfam has exposed widespread tax avoidance by America’s largest pharmaceutical companies and advocated and campaigned for better tax laws in the US that will compel the country’s largest and most profitable companies—including pharmaceutical firms—to pay their fair share of taxes in the US and in poor countries also burdened with high drug costs and expensive or inaccessible health care.
Advocating for a free and fair vaccine
Oxfam is asking supporters to sign a petition to call on pharmaceutical companies to cooperate with governments to make all treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 free to all people, and relinquish monopoly controls to facilitate rapid and widespread global production to meet the un-precedented need.
COVID-19 anywhere means COVID-19 everywhere. We must act now to demand that Big Pharma take these steps to protect the most vulnerable people around the world.