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Profits of selfishness

West's buying up of vaccines not only supports Big Pharma but also its geopolitical goals


The health business is immensely profitable. And the profits to be made during the pandemic seem to have shattered all notions of solidarity and killed all feelings of compassion in some.

The COVID-19 vaccines offer profits par excellence. For example, Pfizer projects 2021 revenue of $15 billion and profits of $4 billion from its COVID-19 vaccine alone. Such profits have justified immoral conduct. Through corruption, the United States tried to steal the vaccine project from the Germans, the aim being to make the new product exclusively US.

But the words of Christian Lindner, chairman of the German Liberal Party, point to problem with the pursuit of profits at this time: "The fight against the novel coronavirus is a task that concerns all of humanity. There is no room for selfishness."

President Xi Jinping's proposal of a global community of health for all makes humanity as a whole the beneficiary, with solidarity as the weapon that can defeat the virus.

At the China-Africa Extraordinary Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 on June 17 last year, Africa supported China's efforts to preserve the United Nations-centered global governance system, which is being undermined by the liberal democracies of the West. The selfish motives for the US withdrawal from the World Health Organization are obvious: the US deprived the UN institution of 15 percent of its budget to guarantee Big Pharma supremacy in the global pandemic health market, without the unwanted obstacle of the multilateral institution's emphasis on equitability in access to vaccines and therapeutic treatments.

For a long time, the business of COVID-19 vaccines dominated debates within the WHO, before moving to the World Trade Organization. Countries that host vaccine-producing pharmaceutical laboratories require compliance with intellectual property rights agreements, in accordance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The COVID-19 vaccines have rekindled the old controversy over the protectionism aimed at promoting and securing the vaccine monopolies of Big Pharma.

On Feb 17, Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, put forward the idea of a "Global Immunization Plan to bring together all those who have the power, the scientific expertise and the necessary productive and financial capacities", calling vaccine equity "the greatest moral test of our time".

But so far, progress on immunization has been unfair and uneven, with just a dozen countries, all from the North, having granted themselves the privilege of administering 75 percent of all COVID-19 available vaccines, according to the UN. That is why, independent experts from the UN have been pleading since March 1, for cooperation on vaccines within the WTO. The UN calls on rich countries to abandon narrow "vaccine nationalism"--vaccine apartheid harmful to the global economy--while urging the WTO to accept the necessary waivers on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The UN thus poses the question of who is upholding "the right to development for all". For the UN, the agreements of the WTO should not constitute an obstacle to access to vaccines and medicines. On the contrary, the agreement should facilitate the protection of public health in all countries and promote the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines. The fact that most of the vaccines produced have gone to 10 rich countries is clearly immoral.

COVAX is an important step in the right direction. Created in April 2020, it is the product of the WHO, GAVI-vaccine Alliance and Coalition for Epidemic preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It comprises two essential mechanisms: one for purchasing vaccines and another intended for financing in favor of poor countries. But the financial commitments made do not prevent the rich countries from hampering universal accessibility to the vaccine as long as they reserve 80 percent of the vaccines, at least until 2022.

Vaccine equity is an issue that could have been solved within the framework of an intelligent policy of sharing responsibilities between the great powers. But the selfishness of the rich countries and the geopolitics of Western spheres of influence hinder the implementation of such a policy in Africa and prohibit the free access of African countries to the Big Pharma vaccines.

Spokeswoman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying said on Jan 20 that there is no need "to put on the vaccines an invisible geopolitical label", doing so is criminal and immoral. Given the gravity of the pandemic, "the putting into service of more vaccines, in particular in the developing countries, could have contributed greatly to our common fight against the virus".

China has declared its vaccines a global public good, and wants developed countries to share their vaccines with developing countries, as the West's favorite zero-sum game is counterproductive. Africa's position is clear: No power outside the continent should take advantage of the pandemic to destabilize states. A scenario heralded by a diplomatic note from the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs on March 24,2020, titled, "The Pangolin Effect: the storm coming to Africa?". Heralding a coming apocalypse, it predicted the collapse of societies due to the virus, enabling regime changes that would be accommodating to the West.

It is to prevent these developments that the COVID-19 vaccine must be made available, everywhere in Africa. It is the guarantee of health and stability.

The author is a full member of the International Institute of Philosophy in Paris and a member of the Consultative Committee of the China-Africa Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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