Access to Medicines & Vaccines

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Medicines and Capitalism
  3. Building Trust in Science and Vaccines
  4. Medical Extortion: The Crisis of Drug Pricing and Access
  5. Making Academic Research Work in the Public Interest
  6. Tax Dodging in the Pharmaceutical Industry
  7. Patent Protections and Corporate Secrecy
  8. Accelerating Vaccine Production
  9. Alternatives for the Future



The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has been front page news since the start of the year when vaccinations started. Significant progress has been made  since late Spring, but the rollout remains behind schedule, plagued by is sues of supply and almost constant controversy. In the South of Ireland, at  time of writing, just 1 in 3 people have been fully vaccinated – far short of  what would be required to offer any kind of population level protection  against the virus. 

The rollout of vaccines in the North of Ireland, discounting a sluggish start,  has proceeded much more quickly, in part due to level of centralisation  and organisation of the public NHS system, and in part due to a greater  supply of vaccine from Westminster. Still, just 50% of the Northern population have been fully vaccinated – short of what would be required for effective population-level protection. 

As the more transmissible Delta variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus becomes  dominant across the island and cases rise once more, rapid vaccination,  particularly focused on completion of immunisation in older cohorts, will  be essential if we are to avoid another serious wave of infections. 

While we are entering another phase of uncertainty in Ireland, with much  of the population still to be vaccinated, the situation globally is much  worse – labelled by Oxfam as “vaccine apartheid”. 

As it stands, 9 in 10 people in 70 of the world’s poorest countries will have  no access to Covid-19 vaccines in 202142– people living in the countries  with the least developed public health systems and the least capacity to  deal with the pandemic are being locked out of access to vaccines that  could save their lives. The deadly cost of this vaccine inequality was hammered home in real time on the Indian subcontinent recently, where over  400,000 people died from an infection despite the existence of an effective vaccine.

Meanwhile, wealthy countries, representing just 14% of the  world’s population have bought up enough vaccine to cover their popula tions several times over – together, the EU, US, UK and a handful of other  countries have purchased almost the entire supply of the Moderna vaccine for 2021 and over 96% of the supply of the Pfizer/BionNTech vaccine

This is a moral outrage, in a global public health emergency, vaccines and  medicines should be distributed on the basis of need, not the ability to pay  or monopolise production. Vaccine inequality will prolong the pandemic  for us all, costing more lives, and causing more misery. A recent report  from the International Chamber of Commerce projected that vaccine in equality could cost up to $9.2 trillion in economic losses if it continues at  the level it is at today – with a disproportionate burden falling on the  poorest and least developed countries of the Global South. Continuing  vaccine inequality threatens us all. As the virus is allowed to continue circulating in unvaccinated populations, the risk of novel strains emerging is  greater and more prolonged. 

We have already seen the emergence of more transmissible and deadly  strains, and some that reduce the efficacy of certain vaccines – the P1  variant that first emerged in Brazil, and the Delta strain that is becoming  dominant across Europe, after wreaking havoc on the Indian subcontinent.  The longer people in the Global South are denied vaccines, the longer this  pandemic will persist and the greater the risk will be of strains emerging  that render vaccines ineffective, and our progress to date, lost. We will not  be safe until everyone is safe. 

To tackle these grave threats and crises, we must understand and address  their root causes. Patent protections, corporate secrecy, and the prioritisation of private profits over public health in the pharmaceutical industry.  These issues have recently come to the fore, but they are not unique to the  pandemic. Rather, they are key features of the capitalist system in the  pharmaceutical industry, which have become entrenched over the course  of decades through a deliberate process of commodification of healthcare.  The present moment offers an opportunity to break from the broken capitalist model of pharmaceutical development in favour of a more democrat ic, socialist model that would put people’s health and wellbeing before profit. 

1st July 2021