Protected by undisclosed trade secrets and exclusive patents, a small group of drug companies has ensured that rich countries can lay claim to most of their miracle drugs while limiting the number of companies that can also produce the vital vaccines.
Now, opposition is building to the patent holders who use taxpayer dollars to fund research and development (R&D) but refuse to share their drug formulas with manufacturers in developing countries that could make their vaccines free and available to all.
Moderna, for example, through its COVID-19 vaccine partnership with the U.S. government, scored $2.48 billion in R&D and supply funding from taxpayers for its program, sparking outcry from consumer watchdogs and others.
“This is the people’s vaccine,” objected consumer advocate Public Citizen. “It is not merely Moderna’s. Federal scientists helped invent it and taxpayers are funding its development. We all have played a role. It should belong to humanity.”
“We paid for the drugs, and one of the things we would have liked is full transparency on all of the research results,” echoed Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“There’s no good argument for keeping [test] data secret,” he said. “But most of the drug companies insist on that. Maybe they want to misrepresent the safety or effectiveness of their drugs.”
Finally, in an open letter to major drug companies from Doctors without Borders, the group wrote in part: “Clearly neither yours nor any other company can produce all the doses needed to vaccinate the whole world’s population.
“Your company faces a choice. Either you can defend business as usual and deny hundreds of millions rapid access to the vaccine in defense of your monopoly power. Or you can instead rise to the challenge and commit to a Peoples Vaccine, by pledging to do what is right for all people in all countries.”
Global Information Network creates and distributes news and feature articles on current affairs in Africa to media outlets, scholars, students and activists in the U.S. and Canada.