KAMPALA: Nineteen (19) out of 26 big pharmaceutical companies that developed COVID-19 treatment scored poorly on their human rights compliance during the pandemic, a new scorecard by Fair Pharma has shown.
Developed by the Pharmaceutical Accountability Foundation, a global pharma watchdog, the scorecard reveals how companies perform when it comes to human rights commitments, transparency, international cooperation, equality, non-discrimination, and equity.
On equal access to vaccines, the report shows that most companies still need to take big steps to make COVID-19 vaccines and medicines available and affordable to everybody, as none of them scored 100% on human rights compliance.
The highest score, at 74%, was earned by Texas Children’s Hospital, whereas the lowest was by Vector State Research Centre at 22%. Vaccine manufacturer Pfizer scored 50%. Even with these high scores, especially for Texas hospitals, Finlay, and CIGB, which were the top three, they do not have an explicit human rights policy, yet their behaviour is the most human rights compliant.
Generally, the scorecard ranked scores like a traffic light, with green, yellow, and red scores. The 26 companies produced 30 products: 4 products scored green, 7 scored yellow, but 19 products were in the red zone.
“The Fair Pharma Scorecard shows that pharma can do better—that people should prevail over profit, and that human rights are powerful principles to hold industry accountable.” But there are too few companies performing well to restore the power balance in favour of human rights, “said Wilbert Bannenberg, chairperson of the Pharmaceutical Accountability Foundation, in a statement shared along with the report.
She added that, “If pharma will not change its own accord, governments must step in and make legislation that will compel it to do so.” Also analysed by the scorecard is the companies’ ability to share knowledge and transparency in their clinical trials and production costs. Even though sharing of know-how and intellectual property is an important way to increase worldwide production of life-saving vaccines, only two companies have committed to sharing knowledge with the Medicines Patent Pool: MSD on its antiviral product molnupiravir and Pfizer on nirmatrelvir/ritonavir (Paxlovid).
None have joined the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), despite the global push by governments and civil society to join this sharing mechanism. Pfizer refused to share the patents for their life-saving mRNA vaccines and has mostly sold their products to high-income countries.
Five companies have committed to not enforcing patents during the pandemic. According to the report, these include Texas Children’s Hospital, Finlay, CIGB, Gamaleya, and Moderna. When it comes to transparency, the scorecard shows that companies are more transparent about their clinical trial results, where there was 100% compliance, and their production capacity, at 72% compliance, than about their production costs, which rated lowest at 3%.
The Fair Pharma Scorecard discloses the practises that should become guiding lights for pandemic preparedness. It also shows that human rights can and should be applied to the pharmaceutical industry as they note that human rights principles are compatible with running a viable pharmaceutical business model.