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« Germany must accept the lifting of patents on vaccines »

Tribune. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz can make a big difference if his new government, which describes itself as a « Coalition of progress », joins the global movement to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible to all as common goods. Then finance minister, he had already played a key role in obtaining a global consensus on a global minimum corporate tax rate, in July 2021.

So far, Germany has been unable to bring itself to do its part to ensure the availability of Covid-19 vaccines for everyone around the world. This is a global public health imperative. It is also in the interest of Germany. The assertion that « No one is safe until everyone is » must be more than a pretty slogan.

Technically, it is for Germany to accept a temporary exemption from the intellectual property rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which currently have the effect of limiting the global production of vaccines. The exemption would apply to all vaccines that qualified companies manufacture, whether it is messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine from BioNTech or Moderna or vaccines from other manufacturers. It would also apply to antiviral treatments, such as those produced by the American companies Pfizer and Merck.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Vaccines against Covid-19: the debate on the lifting of patents deadlocked

So far, the German government has been the main obstacle to accepting the waiver from WTO rules. While large European Union (EU) countries like France, Italy and Spain support the exemption, the German government is actively lobbying other EU member states to refuse to grant it.

Demand and supply

In this regard, it is encouraging to observe that Karl Lauterbach, epidemiologist member of the SPD and now Minister of Health, has clearly come out in favor of the exemption.

While around 53% of the world’s 7.9 billion people received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in mid-November 2021, this figure is below 7% in low-income countries , especially in Africa. In Kenya, for example, only 2.6% of the population is fully immunized. Even before the need for booster vaccines arose and childhood immunizations were approved, the world needed 11 to 15 billion doses by the year 2021 – far more than actual production capacity.

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