A few days ago, it looked like everything was going to be fine for Africa. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced “good news” for the continent. She presented an agreement between the German company Biontech and the South African pharmaceutical company Biovac: the two want to produce the Biontech vaccine together in South Africa. Many media applauded, politicians hailed the deal as an important step towards global immunization justice. On closer inspection, “production” is ultimately just bottling. It’s technically quite demanding, but in the end almost everything stays the same. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, like many other heads of state in less wealthy countries, demanded that patent protection for corona vaccines be lifted, and he was given a sort of Coca-Cola bottling plant. top of the line.
The plant is expected to pack around 100 million cans per year, a considerable amount. For now, however, this changes little to global inequalities. Many corona vaccines have been tested in African countries, but the continent received almost nothing from them at first. Almost four billion doses have already been administered worldwide, of which only about five percent are in Africa.
The Covax vaccination initiative was actually supposed to prevent inequalities, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO), industrialized countries and the Gates Foundation, they wanted to vaccinate 20% of people in the poorest countries. The cans were supposed to come from India, which would also have had the advantage that the rich countries would not have had to give up any of their supplies. Since the Indian people made it clear to their government that they cannot deliver to the rest of the world as the virus rages and kills in their homes, deliveries have almost stopped. The project failed.
What could be the alternative? The World Trade Organization (WTO) recently debated whether to revoke vaccine patent protection and could not reach an agreement, the discussion is expected to continue in the fall. African states should be able to produce vaccines on their own, said Nigerian-born WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, but so far only a handful have been able to do so. Biovac is a good example: the semi-public company has failed to produce more than one vaccine in almost 20 years, and that was a long time ago.
There are so few manufacturers in Africa because research and development was not high on the priority lists of many governments. Why also? In many cases, there was a development aid organization that distributed vaccines and other benefits with the help of Western donors. Medicines and vaccines manufactured in the north of the world and which generate great dividends there. On its own, Pfizer is forecasting sales of $ 33.5 billion this year on its Covid-19 vaccine alone. In the end, it’s not that different from colonial times.
In the Sunday speeches everyone wants to change something, help Africa help itself and so on. In practice, however, a Nigerian researcher does not receive funding for testing once he has developed a vaccine. It’s probably like hundreds of scientists around the world who don’t have a big name and don’t have much to show for themselves. But you have to start somewhere if you really want to change anything and be ready for the next pandemic. But do you really want it?
Many European countries resist the abolition of patent protection, they say it would do nothing anyway, because no one in the world is able to make the complicated vaccine and get all the ingredients so quickly. You won’t know if this is the case until you try it. If you really want justice to be vaccinated in the world, you must also start investing in research and production in other continents. It is also being ready to share know-how and benefits.