An attempt is being made by the BMGF, GAVI and WHO combine, in the name of AMC, to get legally binding commitments from member countries to buy the corona vaccine for administrating to their respective populations. The last date for giving a commitment for the same was fixed for 18 September 2020, which India let lapse.

 

New Delhi: Intense efforts are being made in the country and the world to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, which will help build antibodies to fight the infection in the body caused by the virus. In fact, 185 efforts are on to develop a vaccine and out of these, trials are at different stages for nearly 35 vaccines. Significantly, after the trials are completed, it takes nearly 6 to 7 years for a vaccine to reach the market—a wait that the world cannot afford, at a time when lives and livelihoods are being lost. In fact, there is a possibility of a 10% decline in the GDP of the world in 2020—for the first time in the history of the world.

Naturally the whole world is desperate to get rid of this virus by way of immunization through a vaccine. However, in the guise of expediting the production and distribution of the vaccine, corporate interests are trying to profit from the same. Corporate cartels are not a new phenomenon, however, it is unfortunate that even in this extraordinary situation, they are not willing to mend their ways.

This attempt has taken the shape of what is known as the COVAX Facility, which is the vaccines pillar to the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. They (the corporate cartel facilitated by the World Health Organisation) have created the ACT Accelerator, which they say is a global collaborative effort to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to every country to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. COVAX is co-led by GAVI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO.

It is no secret that GAVI has a deep relationship with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). GAVI, which is said to have the shared goal of creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries, is now jumping into the corona vaccine bandwagon. It should be noted that the BMGF in January 2000 gave $750 million as a five-year pledge to create GAVI and even presently GAVI’s more than 18% funding comes from the BMGF. One of the four Board members of GAVI is from BMGF. It is reported that GAVI has a very close relationship with multinational pharmaceutical companies. Merck currently sits on the board of the Global Fund, while members of the GAVI board always include companies that are part of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers comprising GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis and Pfizer, among others.

Though the COVAX facility does not clearly mention which vaccine they will help distribute, its partners WHO and BMGF have clearly disregarded some vaccines including the Russian Sptunik V, giving one excuse or the other. Their bias in favour of some vaccines, like the one being developed by Oxford University and others with whom they have an understanding, is reflected from the fact that GAVI has done a deal with Serum Institute of India (SII), which is planning to produce vaccine candidates of Astra Zeneca, Novavax and Covishield, if they are successful in attaining full licence and pre-qualification. Gates Foundation, through its Strategic Investment Fund, will provide at-risk funding of two tranches of $150 million each to GAVI, making a total of US $300 million, which will be used to support SII for manufacturing the potential vaccine candidates. The vaccines that are being pushed by the BMGF, GAVI and WHO combine are those developed by a chosen few. Therefore, one can interpret the aim of this combine as  being not exactly the relief to the human race by facilitating and expediting the availability of the coronavirus vaccine, but apparently to making profits for their partners and associates.

An attempt is being made by the BMGF, GAVI and WHO combine, in the name of AMC, to get legally binding commitments from member countries to buy the corona vaccine for administrating to their respective populations. The last date for giving a commitment for the same was fixed for 18 September 2020, which India let lapse.

In the meanwhile, Russia has also registered a vaccine named Sputnik V and has approached India to commercially produce the same. Several other vaccine candidates too have approached India. It is worth noting that India being the largest producer of vaccines in the world, many of India’s well-known companies play a leading role in vaccine production. Seven Indian pharmaceutical companies are currently in the race for vaccine clearance.

Short of giving any commitment to this corporate driven COVAX facility, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has time and again offered India’s co-operation in helping global efforts to develop an effective vaccine against coronavirus. Recently, the Prime Minister, while reiterating India’s commitment in this regard, said, “As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today, (that) India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis.”

VACCINE EFFORTS

In his address to the nation on 15 August 2020, the Prime Minister said that three vaccine trials are going on at different levels in the country and the country may soon get a corona vaccine. Meanwhile, the approval of the clinical trial of the vaccine developed by Oxford University, at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh was postponed as its safety clearance was still awaited. After two weeks only these trials were started.

It’s notable that none of the vaccine candidates in advanced clinical trials have so far demonstrated a “clear signal” of efficacy at the level of at least 50% sought by the WHO, spokeswoman of WHO, Margaret Harris said recently.

Today, as the country and the world are struggling with the havoc of corona, many companies are adopting numerous tactics to increase their sales. On the one hand, they are trying to advance the sale of their vaccine, on the other, they are trying to discredit the vaccines developed by others. These companies are making lobbying efforts to achieve their objectives. Bill Gates, who claims to be a philanthropist, has been supporting these companies in their lobbying efforts aimed at profiteering, directly or indirectly. We must understand that the so called support from GAVI and BMGF would be available only for one year. If the pandemic continues, this may lead to a permanent burden on countries worldwide. On the other hand, nations are worried that the vaccine for which the purchase commitment is being coerced, if it will be effective against corona or not. They are also worried whether or not the price of the vaccine will be within their reach. It is clear that the multinationals-dominated GAVI is fully supported by BMGF and is trying to profiteer even during the pandemic and in this they have the support of the powerful BMGF and the WHO.

VACCINE NATIONALISM

At a time when WHO has said that “vaccine nationalism” will delay the corona vaccine, it is being speculated that the WHO may discourage the work of manufacturing vaccines by agencies other than their supported companies. However, it is also a fact that WHO is fast losing its credibility during this corona period. America has already severed its relations with WHO and many other countries are showing their dissatisfaction with the activities of WHO.

FAIR VACCINE POLICY

Today, while India has risen to number two on the list of countries affected by the coronavirus, the vaccine is becoming an imperative to stop the infection from spreading. India will have to choose from the worldwide vaccine efforts. There will be three criteria to this selection. First, the selected vaccine should be effective. It is believed that no vaccine will be 100% effective and cannot be expected to be so. We need to choose the vaccine which is the most effective. The second criterion will be the side effects of the vaccine. The vaccine with the least side-effects and the least harmful has to be chosen.  For developing countries including India that are going through a severe economic crisis due to this pandemic, affordability is a major issue. Therefore, third criterion is the cost of the vaccine. That is the vaccine that is the most affordable should be chosen. This is actually vaccine nationalism, which the World Health Organization is advising the world to avoid. We need to defeat these lobbying efforts by vested interests against national interests. Vaccine nationalism for India is the way forward, against blind support to corporate interests.

Dr Ashwani Mahajan is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi.