There are relatively few times when old age is actually an advantage. One such example is that it nudges you ahead in the queue for the COVID-19 vaccine, especially if you live in a richer country. But we’ll come to that. Now that I’m approaching 50 (from the wrong direction), I was given my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine last week in Geneva and have the second one lined up in late May. As you might expect with the Swiss, the process was quick and efficient and I was out within a matter of minutes.
Lucky me. However, I admit to having rather mixed emotions about the whole situation. On the one hand, I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity and it gives me hope that I will soon be able to visit friends and family and in time, have back a bit more of the freedom we all cherish . Yet, there is also a sense of guilt that I am one of the lucky elite when so many others in the poorest countries around the world have no vaccine in sight. It’s the same pangs of guilt I feel on the rare occasions I go for a Michelin star meal, knowing that when so many are starving, my bill for two would feed a small village.
It would be hard not to be moved by the horrifying scenes in India, often ironically referred to as the world’s pharmacy, based on its generic manufacturing capacity. The inequity is scandalous given that more than half of all vaccines administered so far I’ve been in Europe and North America, with less than 1% going to the world’s poorest countries. It’s become a cliché, but the harsh reality is that none of us are safe until we are all safe. There has to be a far more equitable rollout of the vaccine globally if we are to develop this much heralded herd immunity.
Of course, the big question is, how can this be done? There is currently a fevered debate about whether intellectual property(IP) rights should be relaxed to grant licences to countries with the manufacturing capacity to produce at scale for the rest of the world. This is, of course, met with great resistance from Big Pharma seeking to recover R&D investments. There are arguments on both sides but I tend to believe that a lot of the reluctance from corporates does come down to protecting profits although I’m prepared to admit it’s a complex issue.
Yet we do have a president from the 1990s, when generic licenses were granted for HIV drugs allowing prices to plummet around the world and millions got affordable access to ARVs. Indeed, one of the projects I was most proud of when I led Accenture’s not-for-profit unit, ADP, was the role we played in helping create the Medicines Patent Pool some 10 years ago. With funding from Unitaid, we helped the then CEO, Ellen ‘t Hoen (watch her inspiring TED Talk), develop their strategy and provided many of the operational staff for the first few years. A decade on, the MPP’s track record is incredibly impressive having provided almost 2 billion treatments in almost 148 countries. I was encouraged to read that they are offering their deep expertise in IP Rights to the WHO and others.
This pandemic is of an unprecedented scale and is devastating lives and livelihoods around the world. We therefore need an unprecedented response and I sincerely hope that the leaders of these pharmaceutical giants will put purpose over profit and show their detractors that business can indeed be a force for good.
This article is an extract from the May edition of The Bullog*, my monthly blog. To read the full blog or to sign up to receive The Bullog directly each month visit………Make sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks. www.gibbulloch.com/bullog