Tuesday, 15th March, 2022
Campaigners from Access to Medicines Ireland, a leading group of doctors, academics and patients who advocate for greater access to essential medicines, have welcomed reports of a landmark deal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The deal, reported to have been agreed by the EU, US, South Africa and India, promises to conclude many months of negotiations since October 2020, when India and South Africa first proposed the measure.
However, Access to Medicines Ireland’s spokespeople have warned that the agreement must now be implemented with maximum generosity – both by governments and with the willing assistance of the pharmaceutical industry – in order to be really effective.
“We have waited for this moment for a long time, while millions of people died needlessly across the world because they were denied access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics,” said Dr. Kieran Harkin, a founder member of Access to Medicines Ireland.
“But a good start is only half the work. We need to see this agreement applied to diagnostics and therapeutics – which could most rapidly assist those already infected by COVID-19 – and we need to see the pharmaceutical industry play its part by assisting in upscaling production of mRNA and other COVID-19 vaccines without delay.
“Three million people have died since Omicron became dominant – a shocking indictment given the milder impact felt in countries with high levels of vaccination, and the fact that so many people also still lack access to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics across the rest of the world.”
Another founding member of Access to Medicines Ireland, Dr. Ciara Conlan, who carries out research in medical virology, called on the pharmaceutical industry to play its part.
“It has been said that some pharmaceutical companies have had a very good pandemic, in terms of exorbitant profits and the creation of new billionaires” said Dr. Conlan.
“But now is the perfect opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to show responsibility in sharing the success of its vaccines and treatment – without any hesitation.
“Even after this agreement, the companies with the know-how to make mRNA vaccines could continue to block, obfuscate and frustrate while many more thousands or millions die needlessly from COVID-19.
“Or they can recognise that the regulatory framework has been transformed, welcome the potential for change and send their experts to companies in the Global South to help them produce many more vaccines and treatments quickly and effectively.”
Dr. Ciara Conlan also discussed her concern that the reported agreement only includes developing country members that exported less than 10% of world exports of COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021, adding:
“In order to maximise vaccine equity, we need to ensure that the top exporting countries in the Global South are eligible.”
On the economic and social potential for the new agreement to be a game-changer, with adequate political and industry support, Access to Medicines Ireland’s leading business expert, Prof. Susi Geiger, added:
“This agreement on paper really does have transformative potential to change not just the trajectory of this pandemic but it could lead to more resilient, local manufacturing capacity everywhere in the world should another pandemic ever happen. In an ideal world, it may even be a beacon for a more open and collaborative pharmaceutical innovation system in the future.
“We will have to wait and see the actual texts of the reported agreement before we can say for sure that this will be a transformative moment in the battle against COVID-19 and any future variants or pandemics.
“But we call on the Irish Government as an EU member to put all its weight into supporting the realization of this deal, and we encourage the active and successful vaccine makers in Ireland to act for the common good in collaborating with their counterparts in low- and middle-income countries.”