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70% of citizens of G-7 countries say they want governments to prevent pharmaceutical companies creating monopolies on COVID-19 vaccine technology, according to a new survey from a network of NGOs campaigning for that medical knowledge to be shared.
The Peoples Vaccine Alliance, along with a growing number of other voices, has called upon G-7 governments to support patent waivers for the technology, which would suspend intellectual property rights. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced support for such a measure, despite its past opposition.
The numbers: The survey found Italians were most supportive of the statement “Governments should compensate fairly for any COVID-19 vaccine developed by a pharmaceutical company but ensure they don't have a monopoly by sharing these formulas and technology with other approved companies,” with 82% agreeing. A majority of people across G-7 countries agreed, with Japan’s citizens the least amenable at 58%.
Why does it matter? Vaccine equity is in danger of turning into a “vaccine aparthied,” activists have claimed, with the vast majority of immunizations given in the global north. The spiralling COVID-19 crisis in India and continued threats of vaccine-resistant variants have heighted the sense that a global vaccination campaign is needed.
But knowledge sharing is just one aspect of this heated debate. Apart from legal barriers to COVID-19 vaccine equity, “you also have a barrier in terms of accessing the technology,” said Dr. Rory Horner, a lecturer at the University of Manchester, who researches the pharmaceutical industry.
Unlike drugs, which can be easily reverse engineered, vaccines are a biological product, which “means they require higher levels of expertise to replicate” according to Horner. He said transferring that knowledge is a critical challenge that still needs to be addressed.
Update, May 6, 2021: This article has been updated to clarify a quote from Dr. Rory Horner on barriers to vaccine equity.