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Archives for November 11, 2022

Investigation reveals big pharma’s lobbying against COVID-19 intellectual property waiver

An investigation by Politico and The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has revealed that:

  • Pharmaceutical companies threatened to withdraw investment from countries including Indonesia, Colombia and Belgium if they supported an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. Colombian officials in Geneva were told by their government that supporting the waiver might disrupt vaccine negotiations with Pfizer and others.
  • Top pharmaceutical industry executives enjoyed direct access to senior officials within the EU, which was opposed to a waiver, and encouraged potentially rogue member countries, including Italy and France, to fall into line.
  • The German government pressured fellow EU governments to oppose the TRIPS waiver, and when concerns were raised about how the EU waiver opposition looked to the rest of the world, Germany proposed that this could be managed with “smart communication on the topic” that “underlines the proactive role of the EU in providing vaccines globally.”
  • When it became clear to the US business lobby that they could not affect the US position in support of an intellectual property waiver, the industry looked to Europe and the UK, which they saw as more receptive. As negotiations ramped up, the US Chamber of Commerce and US pharmaceutical lobbyists including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) met the European Commission to lobby against the waiver. The UK’s biotech lobby met with George Freeman, a science minister, “to discuss intellectual property and the life sciences sector.”
  • Between January 2020 and September 2022, 13 pharmaceutical lobby groups and companies held nearly 100 meetings with the most senior European Commission officials. In the U.K., there were more than 360 meetings between January 2020 and March 2022 — equivalent to nearly one every two days. Boris Johnson personally attended 11 of them.
  • In the EU during 2021, COVID vaccine and treatment developers including Pfizer and Moderna and the largest pharma lobbying groups, including the EFPIA, spent at least €15 million on lobbying. The year before, the companies spent more than €15.7 million. In 2019, their lobbying costs were €13.9 million, according to data analyzed from LobbyFacts.
  • Major industry players also paid at least 31 private consultancies to lobby the Commission on their behalf. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson each paid around €700,000 in 2021 for consultancies working on topics such as the EU vaccines policy and the bloc’s strategy for COVID-19.

Responding, Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, said:

“These shocking allegations are a testament to the huge unaccountable power of big business in global politics. Pharmaceutical companies were seemingly granted unfettered access to the European Commission and the British and German governments, while countries that supported measures to improve vaccine access faced threats from the industry. When US lobbyists couldn’t influence the US government, they turned to the EU and UK. This is not how life and death decisions should be made.

“Millions died without access to vaccines while pharmaceutical companies gouged extraordinary profits from the pandemic. Rich countries expressed warm words and pledged donations, but to Germany, the UK, Switzerland, and the European Commission, it was apparently just a PR exercise. In the end, global solidarity was snuffed out by the wealthy pharmaceutical lobby, which is not how a healthy democracy should function.

“There is, however, a glimmer of hope amid these revelations. The narrow outcome of TRIPS negotiations set an important precedent, recognising that intellectual property rules are a barrier to accessing medical tools. World Trade Organisation members are now deciding whether to extend the decision to cover tests and treatments. That could ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to lifesaving medical tools that reduce COVID-19 hospitalisations and death. While big pharma will once again use all of its lobbying might to protect its medical monopolies, governments must ensure this time that they put people’s lives before profits.”