Expert calls for lifting patents on vaccines to end pandemic

OTTAWA – Canada must focus its COVID-19 aid on expanding vaccine production everywhere or the virus will continue to spread, mutate and bring new waves of disease, an expert says.

Dr Madhukar Pai, Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology and Global Health at McGill University, told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday that he does not think wealthy countries like Canada have learned anything from the first two years of the pandemic.

He condemns “the selfishness, greed and far-sightedness of the world’s richest countries” and says he is 100% sure that in the next crisis, “we will behave exactly like that”.

In a rush to obtain a vaccine to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, wealthy countries such as Canada signed several advance purchase agreements with many vaccine manufacturers to check when the vaccines were ready.

At the same time, Canada and several others signed the COVAX Vaccine-Sharing Coalition, aimed at helping wealthy countries with the less wealthy purchase doses of the vaccine.

But when vaccines first arrived, the initial dose was almost entirely booked by a small number of wealthy countries, with everyone else waiting to be found.

As of May 5, three out of four people in the wealthiest countries had been fully vaccinated and about half had received a third or fourth dose. In the lowest-income countries 12.5% ​​of people are fully immunized and less than 1% have received a booster dose.

Vaccination has resumed in low-income countries, with more than 79 million doses given so far in 2022, compared to 74.5 million for the whole of 2021.

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A total of 1.4 billion booster doses have been given this year, almost all in high- and middle-income countries.

With low demand in high-income countries and increased production everywhere, vaccine supply is no longer an issue. The limiting factor is getting the doses available now in people’s arms before they run out and overcoming the hesitation, which in some cases is driven by the fact that so many people already have COVID- It’s 19.

The more the virus spreads, the more likely it is to mutate, causing variants such as Omicron that partially evade vaccine protection. Although existing vaccines still provide excellent protection against serious diseases, they do not prevent the spread of infection as they did with previous variants, which carry the risk of causing more mutations.

Mr. Pai said that new versions will keep coming if society doesn’t take steps to vaccinate more people.

“Can we buy the Sigma variant? Are we ready to enter another lockdown? We are not.”

Some vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, are developing specific booster doses for Omicron. But Dr. Pai predicts that when these are ready, the cycle will repeat itself, with richer countries picking up all initial supplies while citizens of low-income countries will have to wait again.

Mr Pai is one of several witnesses who told the committee that the solution was to help each country make or buy its own vaccines.

He noted that the only way this could happen is if the necessary technical information would have been transferred if WTO regulations to protect patents for vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 were removed. and countries like Canada invest in vaccine production centers. Them.

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India and South Africa had proposed such an exemption in October 2020, but were largely ignored for months. A year earlier, the United States said it would support the idea, but Canada simply said it was “ready to discuss it”.

The waiver proposal has been made and rewritten several times, and the latest version, which will only apply to the first vaccines, will not be discussed until July.

Canada has donated approximately $700 million to COVAX and has shipped 15 million doses out of its supply to date. Canada says its cash donation enabled COVAX to purchase 87 million doses, although that number is based on a formula set out by the UK last June and has not been confirmed by COVAX itself.

Canada promises to donate at least 200 million doses or the monetary equivalent by the end of the year. His latest $220 million donation was aimed at helping put a dose in people’s arms.

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