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The New Patent-Free COVID-19 Vaccine Could Help End Vaccine Apartheid | by Amanda Hanemaayer | Jan, 2022

Amanda Hanemaayer
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Salk and Sabin ended the polio epidemic without patents.

Both physicians were forerunners of vaccines that served to eliminate the poliovirus from entire regions where it had previously inspired fear over near-annual outbreaks amid the 1940s and 1950s— outbreaks that left many victims of the virus confined to the cages of iron lungs, disempowered by paralysis, or worse.

When asked why he hadn’t pursued a patent for the vaccine he’d invented, Jonas Salk replied “Could you patent the sun?”

Albert Sabin downright refused.

They understood that something intended for the good of all people wasn’t meant to bear a price tag that made it inaccessible to those who needed it most; neither physician pursued exclusive legal ownership because the possibility of eradication was far more desirable than profits.

They forfeited billions in royalties for the well-being of humanity.

If only that narrative had held true for COVID-19.

But a new patent-free vaccine may be the first step towards alleviating the consequences of all the mistakes our governments and pharmaceutical companies have made since the first coronavirus vaccine was approved for public administration.

Developed by researchers from the Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, this new protein-based COVID-19 vaccine — called Corbevax — can be reproduced in any facility equipped with the required resources, in turn placing the possibility of vaccination within reach for low and middle-income countries that continue to experience overwhelming inequity in access.

It’s a gift to the world,” said Peter Hotez, one of the leading researchers on the project. And amid an unfolding humanitarian crisis, it is exactly that.

While many residents of high-income nations are now boasting boostered status, only 0.9 percent of vaccine doses have been administered in lower-income countries.

Forced to rely on the failing altruism of wealthy nations, which pledged to provide two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 as part of the Covax arrangement but repeatedly repealed their commitments in favour of home-based hoarding, many lower-income countries are still struggling to get first shots into the arms of their citizens.

Entire nations have vaccinated less than five percent of their populations with a single dose — Chad, 1.8%; Yemen, 1.9%, Tanzania, 3.6%, Congo, 0.3% — leaving communities and families already overburdened by the pressures of poverty, vulnerable to variants borne from our own inaction.

We needed a patent-free vaccine months ago. Finally, we have one.

The technology for Corbevax has already been transferred to vaccine producers based in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Botswana. This is a step towards actualizing the right of every country to make vaccines for its own people during the pandemic and increasing the affordability of vaccines for those who can’t.

It is a powerful first action towards finding an end to COVID-19 that actually works for all of us.




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