The left group in the European Parliament is joining forces with left-wing parties and grassroots organisations from across Europe to launch a major campaign of mobilisation in support of free and universal access to a Covid-19 vaccine.
Under the slogan Right2Cure, the initiative will petition Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to fulfil the promise of universal access and wave intellectual property rights, making a future Covid-19 vaccine a public good. The EU vaccines strategy, published just days ago, contains no strong commitment on this.
The Right2Cure initiative pinpoints patents as the main barrier to the fulfilment of this goal as they grant big pharma market exclusivity over lifesaving drugs and the ability to determine prices and make huge profits from the pandemic.
Pharmaceutical corporations have been known to exploit patents to limit access to effective treatments and cures, at the expense of countless lives in Europe and across the world.
One of the initiators of the petition, MEP Marc Botenga (Parti du Travail de Belgique) defends a patent pool under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO) as an alternative to the current system:
"To beat a pandemic such as the one we're facing, we need future vaccines and treatments to be universally accessible. This is not only a matter of justice but also an issue of public health. The polio vaccine hit the markets patent-free and the disease has now been eradicated in many regions of the world."
"The WHO set up a patent pool where all knowledge can be shared . The EU must ensure medicines developed with public research funds are included in this pool."
In case a vaccine is developed without EU funds, member states can break possible monopolies through compulsory licensing. The campaign calls on the EU to adapt rules on market exclusivity in order to facilitate this.
MEP Kateřina Konečná (KSČM, Czech Republic) served as Parliament's contact person for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, she comments:
"I know first-hand the importance of swiftly reacting to new outbreaks of disease. There is nothing more depressing than not knowing how to cure an illness as nothing is more precious than human life."
"I'm afraid that when a cure is found, those who cannot afford a cure or vaccine will be left behind. When research is paid directly by Europeans or their governments, they should not pay for it again," Konečná concluded.