Vaccines: requisition the patents

Submitted by AWL on 2 March, 2021 - 8:07 Author: Colin Foster

Producing vaccines fast and distributing them widely has become a top priority. India and South Africa have pushed for a world waiver on vaccine patents, a sharing of “intellectual property”, to maximise production. No rich country has supported them. The World Health Organisation has set up a Covid Technology Access Pool to share vaccine know-how. No big pharmaceutical company has supported it.

Moderna and Pfizer expect huge profits from their vaccines. Many of the companies with big vaccine-production facilities are little involved in the vaccine roll-out, because they don’t have “their own” vaccine to produce.

Labour movements should demand governments “requisition” the patents and share the knowledge. In fact, we should demand that they “requisition” Big Pharma as a whole, taking it into emergency public ownership.

We should also demand funds for Covax, the World Health Organisation’s vaccine-buying facility, which at present lags way behind rich governments in securing supplies, and all for the lack of sums which are small change compared to what those governments have spent helping big business through the pandemic.

Worldwide, about 9,000 people a day are dying from Covid-19. The toll is down from its peak, 14,000 a day in late January, but still higher than the earlier peak in April 2020, which was 7,000 a day. Since mid-February the worldwide Covid case rate has stopped falling and started rising slightly again, but that may be a “blip”.

Pretty much all the news so far on the real-life effectiveness of the vaccines is good. It suggests that the vaccines do well at reducing infection (as well as symptoms) and transmission. But we have a long way to go to tame the pandemic.

• World-wide, so far only three vaccine doses have been given per 100 people. At the current rate, and it’s not accelerating yet, it will take three years to give even one dose each to the 70% or so of the world’s population that is over 18.

• No vaccine is 100% effective, and these aren’t either. Significant numbers are not taking the vaccine when offered; to make it worse, those are often concentrated among the worse-off who are more at risk. Israel has the world’s highest vaccination rate (94 jabs per 100 population), and yet for now (since 20 February) its infection rate is going up and its death rate only levelled.

• Auckland, in New Zealand, entered its fourth lockdown on 28 February. New Zealand, thanks to being remote islands and able to close its borders rigidly, has had one of the world’s lowest Covid death tolls. It can probably deal with its new spike through only a short lockdown. But this shows that for years yet the virus will circulate around the world, spiking here and there, generating new variants, slipping across borders even with the best quarantine precautions. And no-one wants to close borders for many years on end. We, as socialists and internationalists, definitely don’t. Some borders, in Europe and South America for example, really can’t be closed rigidly even now.

• We don’t know how long the immunity given by the vaccines will last. Quite likely we will find out only by a new rise of infections showing that it is fading. We don’t know how fast the vaccines can “keep up” with the emergence of new variants.

• The 9,000 a day figure is an undercount. Africa seems to have the lowest Covid death rate among the continents, only 7% of Europe’s. Probably it really has a lower death rate, because of a younger population and other factors; but not as much lower as that.

Only eight out of more than 50 countries in Africa have full-coverage registration of deaths, let alone of causes of death. South Africa, which does have full-coverage registration of deaths, has had three times as many excess deaths over the pandemic as deaths officially tagged as Covid. Egypt, which also has full-coverage registration, also shows many more excess deaths than tagged as Covid.

Africa’s recorded death rate is going down at present, but new variants could sweep it, increasing both recorded and real death rates, much faster than vaccination could catch up on anything like its present pace.

Even in England, the scientists’ projections for their step-by-step easing of lockdown, with (wisely) five weeks to check after each step, expect some new surges in the coming year, only manageable ones.

Our staple demands will remain urgent for many months to come:

• Full isolation for all, and quarantine accommodation for those attempting to “self-isolate” in crowded housing

• Bring social care into the public sector, with NHS-level pay and conditions for care workers

• Requisition private hospitals and PPE and medical supply chains

• Public-health test and trace to replace the Serco-Deloitte mess

• Workers’ control of workplace safety.

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