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Big Pharma is pushing for a slice of G20 funds to prepare for the next pandemic

By on May 22, 2022 0

Big Pharma is offering to reserve vaccines, drugs and tests for low-income countries in preparation for the next pandemic in exchange for a fee and a pledge that governments will not impose trade restrictions.

Ahead of pandemic preparedness talks at the World Health Organization next week, industry is pushing to win a slice of a multibillion-dollar pandemic preparedness fund proposed by the G20 to cover the cost of booking manufacturing capacity at existing plants.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations says the mechanism would allow rapid distribution of supplies to low- and middle-income countries in the event of a new variant of Covid-19 or the next pandemic.

But the initiative is facing resistance from critics of Big Pharma, who argue that waiving intellectual property rights on drugs and locating manufacturing in Africa is a better way to ensure equal access to drugs. vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in the developing world.

Some civil society groups have criticized Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, which made the effective Covid vaccines based on messenger RNA technology, for rushing to sign supply deals with wealthy countries ahead of Covax – an organization created to supply low-income countries.

Public Citizen said Ifpma’s proposal would provide a “business subsidy” to established industry and act against efforts to democratize vaccine manufacturing by basing production more in Africa and sharing intellectual property.

Ifpma’s proposal, which is contained in a policy paper seen by the Financial Times, says the program would only work if rich countries pledged to allow trade in a future crisis and avoid the kind of “nationalism vaccine” and the export bans that have ravaged the world. initial response to Covid.

India halted vaccine exports for five months in 2021 when it suffered a wave of Covid infections. The United States invoked wartime powers that forced private companies to fulfill domestic contracts before other orders, and the EU imposed export controls at the height of the pandemic.

“The restrictions in place during Covid-19 have undermined the ability to manufacture and supply vaccines and treatments equitably,” said the document, which calls on governments to support “increased and predictable demand” from underserved countries. to support manufacturing capacity between pandemics.

“When we encounter bumps and glitches with certain vaccines – either due to export bans, development delays or difficulties in scaling [during this pandemic] — the companies with the most wanted vaccines have been oversubscribed by rich countries,” said Thomas Cueni, chief executive of Ifpma.

“A willingness by innovative pharmaceutical companies to set aside some of their production for vulnerable populations (as determined by health authorities during pandemics) in low-income countries would be a real game-changer.”

Ifpma’s request comes as policymakers gather at the WHO’s World Health Assembly, which begins on Sunday, to discuss how to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response and learn from the mistakes made in the fight against Covid-19. This includes G20 efforts to establish a Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security Fund hosted by the World Bank, which would aim to disburse up to $10 billion per year over the next five years to build the capacity of health systems in countries in the low and medium term. -income countries.

So far, only $1 billion has been pledged to the fund, raising concerns in the industry that ‘pandemic fatigue’ and other geopolitical crises, such as the war in Ukraine, could shake resolve. governments to fund pandemic preparedness.

Ifpma’s proposal has received support from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which are co-leaders of Covax. Both fear that the world remains ill-prepared to deal with the next variant of Covid or a new pandemic.

Dr Richard Hackett, chief executive of Cepi, said reserving vaccines for low-income countries could potentially help solve a problem Covax faced at the start of the pandemic when it was unable to sign vaccine advance purchase agreements with industry because he had no funds.

“With that kind of funding mechanism in place, then industry partners could say we can set aside that part or a reserve [manufacturing] supply capacity for global equity,” he said.

Dr Hackett said it would be better to have a fairer distribution of pharmaceutical manufacturing between middle and low income countries, but the proposal was a good interim solution until that was achieved.