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Global pharma chief suggests pandemic ‘social contract’


Rich countries have engaged in hoarding vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving Africa scrambling for supplies. Keystone / Siphiwe Sibeko

The president of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) says wealthy industrialized countries and the pharmaceutical industry must prepare for the next pandemic. A critic of vaccine nationalism, Thomas Cueni wants to ensure that the poorest countries have access to vaccines more quickly in the event of a crisis.

This content was published on June 5, 2022 – 14:50


What is needed is some sort of social contract, Cueni argues in an interview published by the German-language newspaper SonntagsZeitung. He says the industry is ready to reserve part of the production for the poorest countries. In return, rich countries must provide initiatives like COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility) with sufficient funding to purchase earmarked production.

Vaccination priority should be given to people who work in the health sector or who are over the age of 65, he said, i.e. 1% and 8% of the world’s population respectively.

“A desire by companies to reserve part of the production from the start for these population groups in the poorest countries in the event of a pandemic could be a game-changer,” he says.

Vaccine nationalism

Cueni notes that rich countries engaged in a kind of hedging at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. They ordered all the promising vaccines to make sure they have the vaccine that will eventually be approved. Then they hoarded the vaccines on a massive scale. “That vaccine nationalism was the big deal,” he says.

Africa, in particular, has been left behind. “Thus, by 2040, Africa wants to cover around 60% of its vaccine needs from its own production,” he notes. “But it doesn’t happen overnight, because you have to put in place a whole infrastructure.

The costs of a pandemic preparedness fund pale in comparison to the costs of the pandemic, he notes, citing calculations by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Such a fund would require around $20 billion. The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to cost $13.8 trillion by 2024.

Based in Geneva, IFPMA represents the biopharmaceutical industry worldwide. Cueni has led the organization since 2017, having served as general secretary of Interpharma, the association of research-based pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland.

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