Don’t Waver And Don’t Waive: Genocide for profit

As PZ Myers and undoubtedly others have noted, India is in danger of being overrun with COVID-19.  After months of stemming the tide, the country now has hundreds of thousands of cases daily, and has set a new record for deaths each of the last nine days.  At over 400 people per square kilometre, India is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (3rd highest among nations with populations of 50 million or more), and the potential of the disease to spiral out of control is real.  It will make the US and Brazil look like a good memory.

But the most galling and obscene fact is that it was preventable. Wealthy G7 and G20 countries (among others) have adamantly opposed waiving the patents on the existing COVID-19 vaccines.  They are telling the developing world: pay us or die.  It they can’t making a killing, then they’ll make a killing.

Rich countries are refusing to waive the rights on Covid vaccines as global cases hit record levels

LONDON — The U.S., Canada and U.K. are among some of the high-income countries actively blocking a patent-waiver proposal designed to boost the global production of Covid-19 vaccines.

It comes as coronavirus cases worldwide surge to their highest level so far and the World Health Organization has repeatedly admonished a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of vaccines amid the pandemic.

Members of the World Trade Organization will meet virtually in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday to hold informal talks on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments.

The landmark proposal, which was jointly submitted by India and South Africa in October, has been backed by more than 100 mostly developing countries. It aims to facilitate the manufacture of treatments locally and boost the global vaccination campaign.

Six months on, the proposal continues to be stonewalled by a small number of governments — including the U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

Last summer, Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla had to negotiate a deal to produce remdesivir, which would cost 5000 rupees (US$66) per dose.  Even in the US, that’s more than many can afford, never mind the $3100 that US companies are asking for.  India’s mass production and high quality labs are part of how the country held out so long.

Cipla’s (and other companies) normal business model is to take medicines with expired copyrights and produce them cheaply for the developing world.  Companies had the capability to produce vaccines a year ago but were prevented by corporate greed and nationalist and racist policies.

Developing nations refused in April 2020 to have COVID-19 vaccine tested on their populations.  From the looks of it, wealthy nations are now telling them, “if you didn’t want to be guinea pigs for us then, you don’t get to have the vaccine now.”

India could have begun production of the vaccine months ago and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.  Those who prevented the companies from making it, who caused the coming 400,000 to 4,000,000 deaths, will never be held accountable.


  1. Bruce says

    Exactly. As we will never give up having our shirts and iPhones made cheaply, people will always travel between India and the West. And the West will never be free of any disease when new cases can come from foreign reservoirs. That is, until worldwide suppression of an illness, vaccinations in the West will not be enough to guarantee safety in the West. So even for governments with no humanity, pure self-interest should promote making vaccine available. And it’s more cost effective to do so sooner, rather than later. There are enough Western customs controls that we could let India make free vaccines and never face mass black market imports into the west that might dampen corporate profits. It’s just that pharmaceutical companies are too lazy to work around their fear this could set a precedent of them having to be decent, which could destroy their business model.

  2. says

    The way self-interest *should* motivate us to be generous with vaccines is a perfect object lesson in how capitalist greed can never rise to the level of “enlightened self-interest.” Capitalism, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is like a man voraciously eating his own legs, completely unable to stop.