Mohga Kamal-Yanni, Policy Co-Lead for the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), said pharmaceutical firms had given the public a false narrative about their investment in messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.
This is in response to the research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) showing that the United States government injected at least £26.7 billion into developing, producing, and purchasing mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
Kamal-Yanni explained that the BMJ research disproves the role of pharmaceutical firms in the evolution of mRNA vaccines and that they don’t deserve the £63 billion profit they accrued from COVID-19 vaccines. He noted that taxpayers had contributed £26.7 billion to mRNA vaccines in the US alone, including tons of investment that had been paid before the pandemic.
“Without public investment, there would be no mRNA vaccines. Yet just three pharmaceutical companies have been handed monopolies on this lifesaving public science,” Kamal-Yanni stated.
According to Kamal-Yanni, Moderna, a company that pioneers a class of mRNA-based medicines, has eventually started paying royalties for its work on the vaccine to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, “the measly sum paid is a tiny fraction of the company’s extraordinary windfall”.
The Policy Co-Lead for the PVA noted that pharmaceutical firms “cannot buy off the right to health”. He said it is the public’s vaccine, adding that the “technology behind them should be shared with the world”.
The need for inclusivity in Covid-19 vaccine production
Since the unprecedented emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health facilities, pharmaceutical firms, and governments have worked tirelessly to create vaccines that can be distributed globally to curb the spread of the virus.
In 2021, the International Non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) commented on producing COVID-19 vaccines for global usage. In its remarks, the non-profit firm opined that “diversifying and scaling up global production in low- and middle-income countries would leave the world better positioned to respond to the pandemic collectively.” HRW further explained that this could be achieved by “sharing knowledge and technology, especially for mRNA vaccines, thereby shoring up vaccine supplies”.
HRW noted there was unequal access to vaccines worldwide, which threatened people’s lives, health, and livelihood. The organisation also believes firms have human rights responsibilities “to share their knowledge and technology more widely for speedier pandemic recovery and preparedness.”
Consequently, the US and the German government provided funds to Moderna, J & J, and Pfizer to research and develop COVID-19 vaccines such as mRNA. According to HRW, the US NIH funded the foundational innovation that made the production of COVID-19 vaccines possible. HRW also explained that the US and German governments “have a responsibility to press those companies to share knowledge and technology more widely”.
HRW disclosed that the list of more than 100 potential mRNA vaccine producers came after the New York Times released a list of 10 prospective mRNA producers. According to HRW, the J&J vaccine’s production could be scaled up thanks to a list of possible producers compiled by Indian civil society organisations.
How does an mRNA vaccine work?
An mRNA vaccine delivery system involves introducing a little part of a protein located on the virus’s outer membrane. In other words, anyone who receives an mRNA vaccine is no longer exposed to the virus and cannot get the infection through the vaccine.
When a person subsequently contracts the virus, the body will create antibodies to combat the COVID-19 virus. However, the mRNA vaccine does not reach the nucleus, which stores the DNA. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines both employ mRNA.