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HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 7 May 2021

Media Summary

EU supports Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver talks, but critics say won’t solve scarcity
Reuters, Philip Blenkinsop and Carl O’donnell, 7 May 2021

Reuters reports that the European Union has supported the US proposal of waiving patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Pharmaceutical companies and some other governments have opposed the proposal as they argue it would not solve global inoculation shortages.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen showed support to explore a waiver following President Joe Biden’s endorsement of the plan.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, a patent waiver is “one possible means of increasing manufacture, and access to vaccines.”

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the U.S. move. She said, “we need to respond urgently to Covid-19 because the world is watching and people are dying.”

However, a waiver would take months to negotiate and require unanimous agreement among the 164 countries in the WTO. Drugmakers will lose revenue with the removal of patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Drug companies have urged rich countries to share more vaccines with the developing world instead.

The pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group in the US, PhRMA, said: “This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.”

Germany rejected the proposal and suggested that shortages were due to limited production capacity and quality standards rather than patent protection issues. French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very much in favour” of opening up intellectual property. South Africa and India made the initial waiver proposal at the WTO in October, gathering support from many developing countries, which say it will make vaccines more widely available.

The European Union had previously been aligned with countries, including Britain and Switzerland, home to large pharmaceutical companies that opposed the waiver.

UK working with U.S., WTO on boosting Covid-19 vaccine supply
Reuters, 6 May 2021

Reuters reports that a government spokesperson said Britain is discussing ways of increasing production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines with the United States and World Trade Organisation.

The spokesperson said: “as one of the biggest donors to COVAX, we will ensure global access to vaccines and continue to encourage manufacturers to provide their vaccines on a not-for-profit, transparent basis.”

The Government has encouraged knowledge sharing between industry and manufacturers but stopped short of calling for IP waivers.

Britain has cited how voluntary licensing agreements, for instance between AstraZeneca and manufacturers around the world, can help increase vaccine supplies, and wants to encourage such partnerships.

EU envoy says bloc is committed to resolving N Ireland dispute
Financial Times, George Parker, 6 May 2021

The Financial Times reports that the EU ambassador to the UK has promised that the bloc will not be “bureaucratic” as it seeks urgent solutions to the Brexit border problem that has fueled political tensions in Northern Ireland.

There have been months of rising tension in the pro-UK unionist community in Northern Ireland over post-Brexit checks on trade coming through the “Irish Sea border” between Great Britain and the region.

João Vale de Almeida, a Portuguese diplomat said he was “encouraged” by a new spirit of UK-EU co-operation to try to resolve the border issue, he said “we are definitely committed to finding solutions.”

He said the British Government’s Brexit agreement, in which the UK left the EU customs union and single market, was “the source of the problem we are facing in Northern Ireland today”.

João Vale de Almeida added that the UK Government was working with Brussels to complete Britain’s implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including finalising border infrastructure and granting the EU access to IT systems.

Vale de Almeida said that to reduce border friction on trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland Boris Johnson should agree to mirror Brussels’ legislation on plants and animal health. Teams led by David Frost, EU Minister to the UK and Maros Sefcovic, EU vice-president are examining areas such as the trade in pets and plants.

British officials confirmed that talks about the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol had become more constructive in recent weeks. Vale de Almeida confirmed that the recent ratification by the European Parliament of the EU-UK trade deal has improved the situation.

Parliamentary Coverage

LSE–Lancet Commission on the future of the NHS: re-laying the foundations for an equitable and efficient health and care service after COVID-19
The Lancet Commissions, 6 May 2021

The Lancet Commission discusses the current state, and future of the NHS, including the UK’s response to the pandemic. The Commission examines the role of the NHS, testing capacity and the availability for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The media and trade unions have criticised the UK’s approach to the procurement, storage, and dissemination of PPE, for which the NHS Supply Chain is responsible. Large quantities of PPE were supplied to NHS and social care organisations with reassurances that they were safe to use and later recalled as faulty or thrown away as they were out of date. The UK rejected offers to participate in European wide efforts to procure PPE.

The Commission said that Scotland has made the most progress in its approach to workforce planning, by drawing on factors from both the supply and demand sides and moving away from a focus on individual professions to consider the collective health and care workforce.

The new ways of working are noted, including the increased role of community pharmacies, who have worked closely with general practitioners and district nurses to enable rapid access to emergency supplies of end-of-life medications for patients who are susceptible to deteriorating quickly. The increased responsibilities of community pharmacies will need to be reflected in the funding that they are allocated the report argues.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the NHS and wider healthcare systems in the UK. The Commission presents a vision for the NHS in 2030, a health system that improves health and wellbeing and reduces inequalities. The Commission believes that an increase in funding is essential for the NHS in order to meet high demand and for post-pandemic recovery.

 Full Coverage

EU supports COVID vaccine patent waiver talks, but critics say won’t solve scarcity
Reuters, Philip Blenkinsop and Carl O’donnell, 7 May 2021

The European Union on Thursday backed a U.S. proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, but drugmakers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed willingness to explore a waiver after President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted the plan, reversing the U.S. position. read more

“The main thing is, we have to speed this up,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Thursday as India battled a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. “None of us are going to be fully safe until … we get as many people vaccinated as possible.” read more

A patent waiver is “one possible means of increasing manufacture, and access to vaccines,” he said, as the White House denied a split among officials over the waiver idea. read more

Biden’s administration endorsed negotiations at the World Trade Organization to gain global agreement.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the U.S. move.

“We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying,” she said.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached for capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s move a “MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19,” and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States.”

Despite that enthusiasm, drugmakers, who stand to lose revenue if they are stripped of patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines, and other critics found flaws in the proposal.

The complexities of manufacturing means free access to the intellectual property is not enough to immediately increase vaccine production, they said. Moderna waived its patent rights in October, and on Thursday noted the lack of companies able to rapidly manufacture a similar vaccine and secure approval for it. read more

Combined, Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) have forecast over $45 billion in sales this year for their COVID-19 vaccines. read more

In the long term, a waiver would discourage pharmaceutical companies from rapidly responding to future global health threats with large research investments, some said.

Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying vaccine shortages were due to limited production capacity and quality standards rather than patent protection issues.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said he shared Biden’s goal of providing the whole world with vaccines. But a government spokeswoman said in a statement that “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”

Moreover, a waiver would take months to negotiate and require unanimous agreement among the 164 countries in the WTO. Drug companies urged rich countries instead to share vaccines more generously with the developing world. read more

DOES NOT ADDRESS ‘THE REAL CHALLENGES’

Stock prices for drugmakers largely recovered after initially falling sharply after Biden backed the waiver idea. Moderna was off 1.3% after earlier dropping 12%, and the U.S. shares of its German partner BioNTech SE shed 0.6% after falling as much as 15% earlier.

“The bottleneck is neither access nor patents (or price) but simply that there aren’t enough vials, raw materials, etc to manufacture it regardless of patents,” Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said of expanding COVID-19 vaccine production.

The pharmaceutical industry’s main lobbying group, PhRMA, said: “This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials.”

There have been more than 155 million confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide and almost 3.4 million peopled have died for COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally. read more

But the vast bulk of the 624 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Our World in Data website, live in wealthier countries.

The global COVAX vaccine distribution program, led by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), that aims to supply vaccines to low-income countries, has so far handed out around 41 million doses. read more

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very much in favour” of opening up intellectual property. However, a French government official said vaccine shortages was the result of a lack of production capacity and ingredients, not of patents.

“I would remind you that it is the United States that has not exported a single dose to other countries, and is now talking about lifting the patents,” the official said.

The United States has shipped a few million vaccine doses it was not using to Mexico and Canada on loan.

South Africa and India made the initial waiver proposal at the WTO in October, gathering support from many developing countries, which say it will make vaccines more widely available.

Until now, the European Union has been aligned with a group of countries, including Britain and Switzerland – home to large pharmaceutical companies – that have opposed the waiver.

UK working with U.S., WTO on boosting COVID vaccine supply
Reuters, 6 May 2021

Britain is discussing ways of increasing production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines with the United States and World Trade Organization, a government spokesperson said on Thursday after Washington supported waiving their intellectual property rights.

President Joe Biden threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries, but angering pharmaceutical companies. read more

“The UK is working with WTO members to resolve this issue. We are in discussions with the U.S. and WTO members to facilitate increased production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines,” the spokesperson said.

“As one of the biggest donors to COVAX, we will ensure global access to vaccines and continue to encourage manufacturers to provide their vaccines on a not-for-profit, transparent basis.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously hailed the role private pharma companies played in bringing about COVID-19 vaccines, saying their investments in risky bets is “what capitalism is all about”. read more

The government has encouraged knowledge sharing between industry and manufacturers, but stopped short of calling for IP waivers.

Instead, Britain has cited how voluntary licensing agreements, for instance between AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and manufacturers around the world, can help increase vaccine supplies, and has welcomed efforts to promote such partnerships. read more

EU envoy says bloc is committed to resolving N Ireland dispute
Financial Times, George Parker, 6 May 2021

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HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 7 May 2021

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