As pandemic rages, Trump eager to vaccinate America first

by Ivan Couronne

Leaders of China, France, Germany, and the World Health Organization want any coronavirus vaccine to be deemed a “global public good,” but President Donald Trump has another idea: vaccinate America first.

Behind the principle of “global public good” lie two distinct issues: intellectual property rights and distribution of the first doses of a vaccine. The former might be easier to resolve than the latter.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that Africa wants any vaccine against the coronavirus to be patent-free.

But that is unlikely because laboratories working to develop a vaccine will want to recoup the billions of dollars that they invest. And they can rely on support from the US, which opposes any challenge to international intellectual property rights and repeated that position this week to the WHO.

So the vaccine will probably not be free, although several companies have committed to providing it at cost.

But that kind of at-cost promise is relative. It was made in the past for drugs to treat HIV, said Matthew Kavanagh, a professor of global health at Georgetown University. But generic drug manufacturers later found their actual costs were a tenth as much or even less, showing there is leeway in how at-cost prices are set.

Mark Feinberg, former chief science officer at Merck Vaccines and now the CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, said pharmaceutical labs have learned their lesson about making profits during a tragedy and do not want to become pariahs. That would hurt their reputation and their profits.

Feinberg said he thinks the patent to a coronavirus vaccine will be shared because once a vaccine is developed, no single drug manufacturer can produce enough of it to meet world demand and will have to partner with other manufacturers.

So the tough question becomes, who among the 7.6 billion of us on Earth gets vaccinated first? (AFP)

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