Patent waiver and global vaccination

Sir, – We would like to address some inaccuracies and omissions in the opinion piece on the Trips (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) waiver on December 21st by Karen O'Keefe of Pfizer ("Patent waiver will not solve key challenges in ramping up Covid global vaccination").

She states that Pfizer invested $2 billion and “did not avail of any public or government money in the development of the vaccine” but ignores the €450,000 grant from public funds given to its partner BioNTech.

She also ignores the advance purchase agreement (not dependent on vaccine success) between Pfizer and the US government for $1.95 billion which effectively de-risked most of the Pfizer investment.

Only 7 per cent of people living in the continent of Africa are fully vaccinated, including just one in four healthcare workers.

Ms O’Keefe suggests that the problem is not one of access to vaccines but an inability of middle- and low-income countries to utilise the vaccines they are being offered.

Authoritative commentators such as the World Health Organisation and Covax state that an increased supply of vaccines is essential to ending the pandemic.

It is therefore surprising that Ms O’Keefe’s denial of vaccine scarcity is not supported with anything more substantial than anecdotal evidence.

Finally, there is no mention of a conflict of interest between the Trips waiver and the Pfizer market monopoly which is expected to yield $36 billion revenue from its Covid-19 vaccine in 2021 alone.

Doctors and their patients in Ireland are facing into another wave of Covid-19 infection but at least we have the protection offered by Covid-19 vaccination.

The current global medical response to Covid-19 is suboptimal due to limited production of vaccine, which results in market forces rather than science dictating national vaccine regimes for many countries.

The ensuing two-tier system, with entire countries basing their Covid-19 vaccination programmes on “surplus” vaccines from high-income countries, is placing us several steps behind the virus at every turn.

The Trips waiver will allow vaccine production to meet global demands and, in turn, facilitate a science-driven, evidence-based global management strategy. To prevent new variants and bring this pandemic to an end, it is imperative that we follow science and not profits. – Yours, etc,



Registrar in Medical



Infectious Diseases

Specialist Registrar;


GP and Professor of Primary

Care Medicine, RCSI,

Doctors for Vaccine Equity,

Dublin 2.