Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

13.09 6 Feb 2021


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Pharmaceutical companies should set aside their intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines for two years so that developing countries can access the inoculation.

That's according to Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty Ireland.

His call follows comments made by the WHO that countries need to make sure that all health workers and vulnerable groups around the world are vaccinated before nations move onto the other cohorts of their populations.

It warned that the rollout of vaccines may lead to further inequality among nations worldwide.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros has cited the previous experience of the HIV global epidemic as a call to action saying there were medicines only arriving in developing countries ten years after they were available elsewhere.

Mr O'Gorman told Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh that wealthier nations have been buying up enough vaccines to inoculate their entire population "three times over", and there is an increase in vaccine nationalism.

He said: "The WHO revealed recently that only 25 individual doses of the vaccine have been administered in low-income countries, that was by January 18th, and that compares with 39 million doses of vaccine in high-income countries.

"The major worry is the vaccines are simply not going to be available in the global south, that developing or poorer countries are simply not going to have access to vaccines because of intellectual property rules which means they're not going to be able to produce in the numbers or at the costs necessary to get vaccines to those populations."

Colm O’Gorman: Companies should set aside intellectual property rights to facilitate global vaccinations

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He added: "And that really does repeat what Dr Tedros was saying earlier on about the experience back at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

"The only reason that was resolved finally and why access to AIDS medication, to HIV medication, became available in the global south was because of an Indian pharma magnate who started to manufacture the drugs and offered to sell them to developing countries at a cost of $1 a day.

"The resulting public outcry forced the pharmaceutical companies to set aside their intellectual property rights, [but] they didn't do it willingly."

Mr O'Gorman said companies have an "opportunity to learn from that experience", as do wealthy and developed countries, he added.

"We can make these medications available if we waive intellectual property rights and if we allow countries in the developing world to produce them for their own operations," he stated.

He explained how that will make everyone safer as this is a global pandemic and requires a global solution.

"People need to understand that there is no such thing as making our own safe without making everybody safe," he said.

"This virus will continue to circulate in countries like Ireland if it circulating anywhere else in the world.

"From a public health perspective, until we vaccinate everybody, there's a risk for everyone."

Mr O’Gorman added: "It would be deeply threatening and dangerous in the face of a global pandemic to fail to vaccinate everybody when vaccines have been developed and can be made available if we will simply set aside for a period of a couple of years intellectual property rights and allow countries access to these vaccines so we can vaccinate everybody."

Main image: Nine freezer vans leave Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, transporting the first consignment of five million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a Beximco Pharma warehouse. Photo by Sultan Mahmud Mukut / SOPA Image/Sipa USA

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