WASHINGTON: The pharma giant Pfizer said it is lining up $70 million worth of drug supplies to India, including steroids, anti-coagulants, and antibiotics, while seeking “expedited approval pathway” from New Delhi for its Covid-19 vaccine amid a continuing global deadlock over patent issues.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in messages posted on social media on Monday that “Unfortunately, our vaccine is not registered in India although our application was submitted months ago,” while ignoring growing pleas, including from many developing countries, liberal US lawmakers, and global activists, that Pfizer and other pharma majors forgo patent protection at least temporarily to address the pandemic.
“We are currently discussing with the Indian government an expedited approval pathway to make our Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available for use in the country,” Bourla said, adding that Pfizer employees in the US, Europe and Asia are working to ship medications that India’s government has approved as part of its Covid treatment protocol.
“We are all following with deep concern the critical Covid situation in India and Pfizer is doing everything possible to provide support… We are committed to being a partner in India’s fight against this disease and are quickly working to mobilize the largest humanitarian relief effort in our company’s history,” Bourla said.
The assertions did not address the patent issue that many world leaders and activists, including WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and US Senator Bernie Sanders, say is at the heart of a long term solution.
“I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies, when millions of lives are at stake around the world, is, ‘Yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries,’?” Sanders said on a Sunday morning talk show.
“Not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it’s in our own self-interest because if this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it’s going to come back and bite us at one point or another,” he warned.
Ghebreyesus on his part has asked, “If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?”
But despite pressure from the left, response from the Biden administration has been lukewarm, with officials arguing that patents were only part of the problem, and Washington is focused on immediate supplies and addressing raw materials shortage hindering manufacture of vaccines in India.
“India has its own vaccine, the Covishield vaccine. Production is slow there because they don’t have the scarce raw materials to make that. We sent enough raw materials to make 20 million doses immediately. Intellectual property rights is part of the problem, but manufacturing is the biggest problem.” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told CBS News.
Separately National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on another Sunday talk shop that US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is in “intensive consultations” at the World Trade Organisation on the issue of waiving vaccine patents, and “we should have a way forward in the coming days.”
Sullivan said “in a crisis of this speed and ferocity, we always wish we could move faster and do more” but the US was continuing to work to source additional critical materials to move them as fast as we can, both directly from the United States and also galvanizing partners around the world.”
“We are concerned about variants. We’re concerned about spread. We’re concerned about the loss of life and also all of the secondary effects that emerge as this pandemic rages out of control in India,” Sullivan said on ABC, reflecting the anxiety in Washington as it seeks to prevent the virus transmission by shutting down non-essential travel from India.