Covid-19: Global Justice Now activists protest outside AstraZeneca in Cambridge, calling for ‘People’s Vaccine’
Activists have blocked the entrance to an AstraZeneca building in Cambridge where its AGM is taking place and hung a banner demanding that its Covid-19 jab becomes a “People’s Vaccine’.
Police made four arrests at the demonstration in Hills Road, held by Global Justice Now, which is demanding that the Cambridge-headquartered biopharmaceutical company openly licenses its Covid-19 vaccine and commits to sharing the technology and know-how with the World Health Organization (WHO).
The group also called on Oxford University, where the vaccine was invented, to ensure all its future medical innovations are openly licensed.
AstraZeneca has committed to producing and distributing the vaccine during the pandemic at no profit, and a spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent that openly licensing the new technology could lead to quality control or safety issues.
It says it is supplying the vaccine to 165 countries around the world and has provided more than 95 per cent of Covid-19 vaccine doses supplied under the COVAX agreement.
COVAX, led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO, aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
But Global Justice Now says AstraZeneca could begin profiting once it deems the pandemic over, and argues the company must sign up to the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) set up by WHO to share knowledge.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “It is simply shameful that big pharma companies like AstraZeneca refuse to openly share the vaccine knowledge and technology they control.
“It’s no wonder that people are angry and we applaud those who engaged in civil disobedience today to protest against this vaccine apartheid, in which our own government is also complicit.
“That these young activists are willing to put themselves at risk like this should shake company executives, who seem more concerned with trying to add millions of pounds to their already whopping salaries today than waive their patents and ramp up production.
“We will not be silent in the face of this injustice and today’s action is surely a sign of things to come unless big pharma immediately gives up its monopolies and the British government stops putting corporate profits ahead of the lives of millions around the globe.”
Speaking outside the AstraZeneca building, where about 80 were gathered, Heidi Chow, a Global Justice Now campaigner, says: “This vaccine, that was discovered at a public university by public scientists, based on 20 years of public research, and then tested on members of the public, this should have been the people’s vaccine. It should have been a global public good. Instead of being a people’s vaccine, it’s turned out to be a privatised vaccine. It’s been taken into the private ownership of one company, AstraZeneca, that has complete and exclusive control over this vaccine, over its price, its distribution and its supply.”
An AstraZeneca spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “The point they are making is an important one, in terms of making sure the world has access to the vaccine, but AstraZeneca is doing everything we can to make that happen.
“We are working with 20 or so contract manufacturer organisations around the world to manufacture the vaccine so we are sharing the intellectual property with those organisations.
“The problem with making it open IP is that it is an incredibly complex biological process. We’ve seen that first hand with the delays in Europe, where those we have contracted to are still learning the process to make sure the yields come through reliably and predictably.
“It’s a really complicated biologically manufacturing process. We are working flat out with the 20 or so contract manufacturing organisations on the technology transfer to make sure we optimise the learnings we are gathering across the world.
“We are working with them hand in glove to improve the productivity and improve the yield, and making it more predictable.
“If you hand it out without the due diligence and oversight, you face a number of challenges. You might not get the yield or also the quality. The most important thing is that the vaccine is safe. Without that oversight, we can’t have the quality assurance.
“We have 60 quality control steps and regulatory steps in the manufacturing process through to distribution. We would never want to be in a position where we don’t know whether those checks are being done.”
AstraZeneca has so far supplied more than 300 million doses of its vaccine around the world.
As of April, more than 80 per cent of AstraZeneca doses delivered through COVAX were to lower and middle-income countries.
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