India surpassed 20 million covid-19 cases on Tuesday, becoming only the second country in the world after the United States to reach that dark milestone. And to make matters worse, experts pretty uniformly agree it’s a vast undercount of the real crisis, which has left at least 222,408 people dead in the country since the pandemic began.
India reported 357,229 new cases on Tuesday alone, with 3,449 new deaths from the disease. Less than 2% of India’s adult population has been vaccinated against covid-19, with the country of 1.3 billion people facing a dire shortage of supplies.
Health officials in India have begged wealthy countries to grant waivers for intellectual property protections on vaccines, but so far they’ve been flatly denied. The World Trade Organization holds talks on Wednesday and Thursday of this week where less wealthy countries like India and South Africa are again expected to ask for IP waivers that they’re unlikely to get.
Roughly 100 countries have asked the WTO for the vaccine IP waivers to be granted, according to Law 360, but rich countries like the UK, Australia, Japan, and the EU continue to put up roadblocks.
President Biden has been silent on the issue of vaccine IP waivers, despite pre-election promises that it was the only right and honorable thing to do. And those assertions are starting to look pretty damn hypocritical in the face of a pandemic that will not go away globally until billions more people are vaccinated.
“Absolutely, positively,” Biden said in 2020 when asked about making sure there wouldn’t be any patents standing in the way of anyone around the world producing vaccines. “This is the only humane thing in the world to do.”
But it’s become apparent that Biden wants pharmaceutical companies to do the right thing on their own, with Biden’s top trade negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, meeting privately with executives from Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer in closed door meetings. We don’t know what’s been said, and the White House insists no final decision has been made, but the clock is ticking and thousands die each day.
Despite the meetings with Big Pharma, Biden’s White House is reportedly “divided” on the issue and has plenty of excuses internally for why they shouldn’t grant the waivers.
The New York Times reported earlier today:
Inside the White House, health advisers to the president admit they are divided. Some say that Mr. Biden has a moral imperative to act, and that it is bad politics for the president to side with pharmaceutical executives. Others say spilling closely guarded but highly complex trade secrets into the open would do nothing to expand the global supply of vaccines.
But this argument—that it wouldn’t expand the global supply—doesn’t hold water when officials in India say it’s keeping them from producing vaccines faster.
India has postponed exams for medical students in the country in an effort to get those people to the front lines of this crisis, and is making plenty of other adjustments in an effort to save lives. That’s simply what you do in a global pandemic, as we’ve seen people making sacrifices around the world over the past year.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mismanged this crisis and is getting plenty of heat for that, but there are lots of things that are seemingly out of the Indian government’s hands right now. If the U.S. advocated for limited IP waivers so that anyone with the capabilities could make their own vaccines, it would save innumerable lives.
But Pfizer might make a little less profit in the short term, despite the fact that they’d still make big bucks on those plenty of booster shots down the line. And we can’t have companies making slightly less money long term, can we?