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Patent release of vaccines: Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller speaks out against it

2021-05-07T14:49:18.690Z

The US wants to release the vaccine patents, and the EU also wants to discuss them. Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller believes this approach is wrong.



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Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU): “If we were to achieve our goal of producing vaccines for everyone more quickly simply by approving patents, I would be for it.

But that is not currently the case. "

Photo: Steffen Roth / Der SPIEGEL

"A historic decision," is how the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls the announcement from the USA.

The US government announced on Wednesday that it supports the suspension of patent protection for corona vaccines.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Thursday that, after the USA, the European Union wanted to discuss temporarily waiving intellectual property rights for corona vaccines.

Green leader Robert Habeck is also in favor: "Germany and the EU should join the US and lobby the World Trade Organization for an exception," he told SPIEGEL.

The German Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) sees it differently.

SPIEGEL:

Minister Müller,

Voices are growing worldwide calling for the pharmaceutical companies to release the patents for the vaccines.

You have spoken out against it so far, are you sticking to the current developments?

Gerd Müller:

If we were able to achieve our goal of producing vaccines for everyone more quickly through the patent release alone, I would be for it.

But that is not currently the case.

Because the patent alone is not enough.

You also have to know how to produce.

Therefore, from my point of view, more targeted license productions and a technology transfer should urgently take place.

SPIEGEL:

So far, that's supposed to be done on a voluntary basis - and little is happening.

You know well enough from your work that voluntary action does not work and is sufficient when it comes to humanitarian problems or questions of justice.

Müller:

Just releasing one patent doesn't mean adding a single dose of vaccine. So far, India in particular has been able to do something with the pure recipe. It is crucial to organize a good match between license holders and production facilities in developing and emerging countries. That's exactly what we're doing and talking to potential licensees in South Africa, Ghana and Senegal. However, by the end of the year at the earliest, they could be ready to fill vaccines and later produce them. It takes even longer for mRNA vaccines, which are difficult to produce. At the same time, one should also think about countries like Mexico and Brazil. Corona won't be over in a year. The virus mutates. We have to plan for the long term and expand vaccine production facilities around the world.We can also make good use of this technological advance for routine vaccinations against measles, polio and rabies.

SPIEGEL

: As development minister, how do you cope with the fact that rich countries are hoarding a lot of vaccine while India, which is currently badly hit by Corona, has been producing for us, but has only been able to fully vaccinate a small part of its own population?

Müller:

It is extremely unfair that 70 percent of the vaccinations so far have taken place in the ten richest countries.

Developing countries must also have sufficient access to vaccines.

That is why I asked the G7 to quickly close the existing funding gap in the Covax global vaccination platform.

At the same time, countries that have secured excess capacity should share it with poorer countries via Covax.

SPIEGEL:

Germany too?

Müller:

We don't currently have any excess capacities.

Such a situation could arise from autumn.

SPIEGEL:

Why isn't that happening now?

We can see how quickly mutants develop that reach us in a very short time and against which even the current vaccines may not work properly.

Müller:

Germany is already showing solidarity as one of the largest donors for the global vaccination campaign.

SPIEGEL:

Your term of office ends after the federal election in September.

If you had one wish by then, what else would you change?

Müller:

I would like all developing countries to have access to Covid vaccines later this year.

To do this, the WHO must implement a world vaccination program with Covax.

But around 20 billion dollars are missing - for the production and fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, for diagnostics and therapeutics worldwide.

We have to understand: the virus can only be fought worldwide - or not at all.

SPIEGEL:

Unfortunately, the plan doesn't work out.

Covax should deliver vaccines to 3.3 percent of the population in 140 countries by the end of June.

But even this goal will not be achieved, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Müller:

Covax's goal is to provide around 30 percent of the people in the 92 poorest countries with vaccines by the beginning of 2022.

That would have covered the risk groups.

Because the populations there are very young.

Two billion cans are needed for this.

That is still possible until the end of the year, say the manufacturers.

SPIEGEL:

Many people in African countries do not trust the vaccines, especially AstraZeneca, also because there are hardly any awareness-raising campaigns.

Tens of thousands of cans had to be destroyed - they had not found a buyer before the expiry date.

Müller:

Yes, that's a problem.

If, however, the vaccine soon reads “Made in Africa”, it might increase its acceptance among the population.

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Gerd Müller in Mossul, Iraq (2018): »Many developing countries are being set back economically and socially 10 to 15 years.

It hits the children hardest "

Photo: Ute Grabowsky / Photothek / Getty Images

SPIEGEL:

Many global development successes in recent years, for example in fighting poverty or strengthening the rights of women and girls, were wiped out by the pandemic in just a few months.

How powerless are you in the face of that?

Müller:

Many developing countries are being set back economically and socially 10 to 15 years. It hits the children hardest. 800 million to a billion could not go to school for a year. Millions of girls have been forcibly married or become pregnant against their will. The poorest of the poor are hit by the virus several times. Experts estimate that up to 130 million people slide into extreme poverty and hunger. This leads to the destabilization of entire states such as in the Sahel zone. And we are experiencing dying because the supply chains for HIV, malaria or tuberculosis drugs, for example, are interrupted. In Africa, we are therefore assuming two million additional deaths, who will not die from Covid-19 but from the consequences of the pandemic.

SPIEGEL:

Two million additional deaths in Africa alone is an incredibly high number.

Around 3.2 million people have died from Covid disease worldwide so far.

Müller:

Of course it's depressing.

The pandemic has long since become a polypandemic - a multiple crisis.

The dangers are dangers for everyone.

But they hit the poor the hardest.

That is why we now need solidarity on a much greater scale than has been the case up to now.

Germany has traded over 3 billion euros with a worldwide immediate Corona program.

But we cannot master the challenges alone.

The European Union must make a much larger contribution - also when measured against the thousand billion program that is intended to promote the recovery of the 27 EU countries.

"I've seen heaven and hell on earth."

Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller

SPIEGEL:

At the end of last year, the head of the World Food Program appealed to major international corporations to participate financially.

Should Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg step in where states fail?

Müller:

Facebook and Amazon are profiting from this world crisis.

Your wealth has grown tremendously in the past year and a half.

That is why I think it is appropriate to involve the winners of the crisis in solving the problems.

To do this, we have to introduce a global minimum tax for companies, as Finance Minister Olaf Scholz is currently promoting.

The issue has been debated for ten years and has now picked up speed with the new US administration.

And we finally need a financial transaction tax.

SPIEGEL:

So you are not concerned with voluntary contributions by the richest, but with taxes?

Müller:

Donations are always important.

The personal wealth of the ten richest people has grown by $ 500 billion in the past five months.

So there is enough money.

But it is also a question of will.

That is why global minimum taxes are important for companies.

In addition, even during this crisis, defense budgets around the world were increased more than ever.

The annual military spending limit of $ 2,000 billion has just been exceeded.

But the 20 billion that we now urgently need for a world vaccination campaign, which should be a problem?

One can fall away from the faith.

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Müller on a visit to Ethiopia in 2017: "Many of my colleagues in politics have never been to Africa or India"

Photo: Michael Gottschalk / photothek.net

SPIEGEL:

Is there a need for debt relief for developing and emerging countries?

Müller:

The international community has agreed on a debt deferral by the end of the year.

That was important and gave the countries some air.

But we're going to get to the point where debt relief is also an issue.

Poor countries like Yemen in particular can no longer service their debts and have starving populations.

So it doesn't make sense to ask for interest.

The debts must be forgiven in perspective and at the same time humanitarian aid must be provided so that people do not die.

The prerequisite is a transparency initiative: no euro may go into corrupt channels or prestige projects.

The debt service saved must primarily be invested in health and social security.

SPIEGEL:

Private creditors account for 64 percent of the debts in developing and emerging countries.

How should it be dealt with?

Müller:

That is one of the central questions.

Private creditors must participate in debt relief.

SPIEGEL:

How do you achieve that?

Müller:

Not at all so far.

All creditors must participate in debt relief, including private ones.

Otherwise we end up financing speculative funds with development funds.

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Müller in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, to which many people of the Rohingya ethnic group have fled (archive image)

Photo: Ute Grabowsky / Federal Development Ministry / Photo library / picture alliance / dpa

SPIEGEL:

What was your greatest moment of frustration as development minister in the past eight years?

Müller:

It is a great privilege to serve Germany as development minister.

Many of my colleagues in politics have never been to Africa or India.

The experiences I have had changed the way I think and act.

Especially the visits to the many refugee camps.

In Kutupalong, a refugee camp for Rohingya, I spoke to mothers whose babies had been torn away and thrown into the flames of their burning houses.

SPIEGEL:

What did such encounters do with you?

Müller:

I've seen heaven and hell on earth.

Infinite suffering, child labor, exploitation of humans and nature in global supply chains.

The suffering of the others does not let go of me.

It obliges me to audibly raise my voice in politics and very clearly denounce injustices in the world in order to change.

This is just a small contribution.

But I do what I can, also privately.

Politicians, but also every individual, can and must make a contribution, such as ensuring fair products or becoming climate-neutral.

SPIEGEL:

Minister, thank you for talking to us.

This contribution is part of the Global Society project

Expand areaWhat is the Global Society project?

Under the title Global Society, reporters from

Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe

report on injustices in a globalized world, socio-political challenges and sustainable development.

The reports, analyzes, photo series, videos and podcasts appear in the international section of SPIEGEL.

The project is long-term and will be supported for three years by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

A detailed FAQ with questions and answers about the project can be found here.

AreaWhat does the funding look like in concrete terms?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is supporting the project for three years with a total of around 2.3 million euros.

Are the journalistic content independent of the foundation?

Yes.

The editorial content is created without the influence of the Gates Foundation.

Do other media have similar projects?

Yes.

Big European media like "The Guardian" and "El País" have set up similar sections on their news sites with "Global Development" and "Planeta Futuro" with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Have there already been similar projects at SPIEGEL?

In recent years, SPIEGEL has already implemented two projects with the European Journalism Center (EJC) and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: The "Expedition The Day After Tomorrow" on global sustainability goals and the journalistic refugee project "The New Arrivals", as part of this several award-winning multimedia reports on the topics of migration and flight have been produced.

Where can I find all publications on global society?

The pieces can be found at SPIEGEL on the topic Global Society.

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2021-05-07

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