FILE PHOTO: A dose of AstraZeneca vaccine is prepared at COVID-19 vaccination centre in the Odeon Luxe Cinema in Maidstone, Britain February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Couldridge/File Photo

The United Kingdom is hosting health ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries in Oxford today (June 3) for a two-day summit, as pressure intensifies to do more to broaden access to Covid-19 vaccines across the world.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said that equitable access to coronavirus vaccines will be at the top of the agenda when G7 leaders meet next week.

But as health ministers gather at the University of Oxford, where AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine was invented, charities stressed the UK could do more by supporting a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical firms.

U.S. president Joe Biden has backed calls from many developing countries for the waiver, in the hope this would boost production and allow more equitable distribution, but Britain and some European countries have expressed reservations.

G7 leaders must take this moment to stand on the right side of history by putting their full support behind the vaccine patent waiver,” said Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy manager.

“The G7 may be getting the vaccines they need but too much of the world is not and people are paying for patent protection with their lives.”

Britain has said technology transfers with not-for-profit pricing, a model AstraZeneca has used, can achieve many of the same aims as a patent waiver without disincentivising research.

A G7 report on progress in efforts to improve health in developing countries is being published on Thursday (June 3), and health secretary Matt Hancock said he would agree with G7 counterparts on a system to share data on any early warning signs of the next pandemic.

“Globally we are only as strong as the weakest link in the health security chain. No one is safe until everyone is safe,” Hancock said in a statement ahead of the summit.

Pharma industry calls for ‘free and open trade’

Meanwhile, the global pharmaceutical industry has welcomed the commitment by G7 partners to future discussions on trade and health.

“Free and open trade is vital for getting medical supplies, medicines, and vaccines to where they are needed in times of crisis. Right now, global supply chains are distributing Covid-19 vaccines around the world as quickly and safely as possible,” said Richard Torbett, chief executive, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and Thomas Cueni, director general, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, in a joint statement issued on June 2.

They added: “Barriers to free trade serve no one, least of all patients. Today’s communiqué sends a positive signal that world leaders understand the unbreakable link between trade and resilient global supply chains.

“It is vital that this is turned into action, with a concrete agreement that strengthens global trade and doesn’t put unnecessary barriers in the way of our response to current and emerging health threats.”

The pharmaceutical industry has also urged G7 partners to move swiftly to create a new meaningful, plurilateral agreement between countries that goes beyond Covid-19-related products and includes, at a minimum:

  1. Expanding the elimination of tariffs on all finished medicines and pharmaceutical inputs so as to reflect recent scientific breakthroughs and cover the newest, most innovative medicines, vaccines, and treatments.
  2. Commitments to proportionate and transparent trade responses to public health emergencies, avoiding counterproductive restrictions on imports and exports.
  3. Deepening regulatory cooperation to develop international best practices in pharmaceuticals and reflect those in domestic regulation.

“Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to reassert those principles at the heart of life sciences trade, so that we are better prepared for future health crises,” the ABPI said.

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