The agreements signed between the European Commission and pharmaceutical companies to develop Covid-19 vaccines offer significant long term benefits to the corporations involved to the detriment of public health, research published today by the Left group in the European Parliament has found. Lack of transparency and accountability, exclusive ownership of know-how, technology and intellectual property generated by massive public financing are some of the most problematic issues revealed by the study.
In June 2020, member states entrusted the Commission with the joint procurement of vaccines under the assumption it would give them a negotiating advantage. The study conducted by Medicines Law & Policy found no significant advantages to the terms of the contracts negotiated by the Commission compared to those negotiated by the US or the UK. In fact, some terms were significantly worse.
Despite the Commission commitment to promoting vaccines as a ‘global public good’ during negotiations, the concluded Advance Purchase Agreements (APAs) granted the intellectual property, including know-how and data, to the companies – including Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) generated as a result of EU funding. By contrast, the US research and development contract retains public ownership over all data generated under the deal.
MEP Silvia Modig (Vasemmistoliitto, Finland) denounced the narrow interests enshrined in the APAs:
“At the beginning of the pandemic, European leaders promised that the Covid-19 vaccines would be a global public good. Yet, our study shows that these agreements signed by the Commission make no demands on the pharmaceutical companies to share know-how, data or technology in the public interest. These assets remain in the hands of the companies.
“‘None of us will be safe until everyone is safe’ is more than a catchy slogan, it is truly the only way out of the pandemic. We need concrete action and global solidarity. The Commission should support the TRIPS-waiver* proposal in the World Trade Organisation.
“Our study raises pressing concerns that the agreements do not serve the public interest of European citizens to the extent they should. The Left demands that they receive the public scrutiny they deserve. We need transparency and answers from the Commission!”
For Kateřina Konečná (KSČM, Czechia), EU citizens received little in return despite the billions in research money going to pharmaceutical companies:
“These deals with Big Pharma were part of a strategy to provide upfront financing for Covid-19 vaccines and to accelerate their development and availability. Since the beginning of the pandemic, member states have spent billions on the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Contracts were concluded with several pharmaceutical companies. The European Parliament created the Covid-19 Contact Group where these agreements should have been properly disclosed and explained. But this has never happened. In order to be able to fulfil our responsibilities as MEPs to ensure public scrutiny, we were forced to pay to carry out our own analysis of the agreements.
“Unfortunately, this analysis has confirmed our worst assumptions. Production capacity that has been created with upfront funding for manufacturing scale-up is a permanent benefit because it will stay with the company after the agreement expires.
“Financing for vaccine development costs, if spent, does not have to be paid back in case a product is not successful. In exchange, there is no obligation to share the data and knowledge generated.
“All contracts are clear that the intellectual property rights remain in the hands of the company without requiring that they are shared, licensed for use, or co-owned in the public interest.
“None of the deals disclose the price paid for the vaccines. While the Commission and several member states have made public commitments to pursue Covid-19 vaccines as global public goods, the term global public good does not appear in the agreements, ” Konečná concluded.
* Proposal by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive certain intellectual property rules under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement)