In times of crisis, it should be possible to temporarily override intellectual property rights and share existing knowledge about the development of resources against Covid-19.
More than a year after the start of the pandemic, not only has corona killed countless numbers of people. It has also had a devastating effect on the lives of billions of people. Corona has caused the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. Worldwide, millions of children are at risk of becoming a lost generation due to malnutrition, the sudden withdrawal of education and widespread fear and uncertainty.
Vaccinations are a critical part of the solution. While we in the Netherlands are eagerly looking forward to the moment when everyone can feel safe from the virus and all restrictive measures are lifted, vaccinations have not even started in most poorer countries.
If nothing changes, the severe lack of vaccines means it will take many more years before everyone around the world has access to protection - or it may never work. This means that we will continue to have countries where new virus variants continue to develop, against which we will also have to take measures in Spain.
There is a quicker way to reach that moment: make vaccines a universal, public good. In times of crisis, it should be possible to temporarily override intellectual property rights and share existing knowledge about the development of resources against Covid-19. This would allow us to make vaccines, tests and medicines on a large scale worldwide faster and easier.
To that end, the World Health Organization has established a platform where pharmaceutical institutions can share their knowledge and property rights. Such an approach previously ensured that medicines against HIV / AIDS became available in many more places. But this “knowledge bank” against corona is still empty. The shelves are collecting dust. Pharmaceutical companies are keeping the technology to themselves for the time being.
Patents allow companies to sell the products they develop at a profit. But in an unprecedented global crisis like this one, patents are an obstacle to protecting the security of the world's population and the future of entire generations.
Despite the promise to make vaccines available to everyone, the European Commission is not making any move to invalidate patents. We call on Europe and all its member states to join the nearly 100 countries and countless civil society organizations that do want to make corona vaccines a public good. Even the US, a notorious adversary, is now considering joining its advocates.
This is the only way to make the vaccine available worldwide in the short term; first to the most vulnerable; than to everyone. The corona pandemic will not be over until it is under control everywhere in the world.
Over 300 European civil society organisations and 140.000 European citizens are calling for the signing of the European Citizens' Initiative 'No Profit on Pandemic'. This initiative calls on the European Commission to make corona vaccines and treatments a universal common good, and demands full transparency on the negotiations, purchase prices and production costs.
All EU citizens can sign the European Citizens' Initiative via this link noprofitonpandemic.eu.
This post first appeared on Nederlands Dagblad on 8 april 2021.