Documents leaked to BBC Newsnight show that wealthy countries, including the United Kingdom, are blocking plans to help developing countries improve their vaccine manufacturing capabilities.
Several poorer countries have requested assistance from the World Health Organization.
Richer countries, on the other hand, are fighting clauses in international law that would allow them to do so.
According to a leaked copy of a negotiation text for a WHO resolution on the subject, this is the case.
The United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union are among the wealthier economies.
“Where we could have language in there that would make it easier for countries to produce more vaccines and more medicines within their country, it would include initiatives that would finance and facilitate that. The UK is on the opposite side of the argument of trying to remove those kinds of progressive proposals from the text,” says Diarmaid McDonald, from Just Treatment, a patient group for fair access to medicines.
The question of whether and when governments should intervene to guarantee affordable medicine supplies has long been debated.
However, according to Ellen t’Hoen, an expert in drugs policy and intellectual property law, the worldwide capacity for making vaccines is just about a third of what is required.
“These are vaccines that are produced in wealthy countries and are in general kept by those wealthy countries
Although the WHO does not have the power to circumvent patents, it is attempting to bring nations together to find a way to increase vaccine supplies.
The pharmaceutical industry, on the other hand, claims that eroding patents will limit its ability to invest in future therapies for Covid and other diseases.
Representatives from the US pharmaceutical industry wrote to US President Joe Biden earlier this month to express their concerns.
“Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic,” they wrote, including ongoing efforts to tackle new variants.
It would also create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety, and create a barrier to information sharing, the representatives said.
“Most importantly, eliminating protections would not speed up production,” they added.
Others concur. Anne Moore, a vaccine immunologist, is concerned about the influence of patent infringement on future research.
“We’re seeing fewer and fewer organizations and commercial enterprises in the vaccine field as time goes on because there’s such a low return on investment,” she says.
Pharmaceutical companies point out that they have contributed both financially and with medications to help combat the pandemic.
However, campaigners argue that because around £90 billion ($125 billion) of public money has gone into developing Covid treatments and vaccines, the public should have a stake in the company. They claim that once the pandemic is over, there will be a lot of money to be made.
“It’s obvious that there are longer-term plans to increase the price of these vaccines once the most urgent phase of the pandemic is over. So that is another reason why developing countries are saying we need to gain the ability to produce these vaccines ourselves now,” Ms t’Hoen says.