COVID-19

Articles and publications written by the CCC about the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.

Les arguments contre le passeport vaccinal européen

Les démocraties libérales devraient simplement s’abstenir de la mesure intrusive d’un passeport vaccinal.

À Bruxelles, la Commission européenne et les États membres ont peaufiné les détails du soi-disant certificat vert numérique de l’Union européenne, un nouveau nom stylé pour ce qui est essentiellement un passeport vaccinal européen. Pour l’essentiel, le programme est censé remplacer le test Covid-19 que les voyageurs sont désormais tenus de présenter négatif à leur arrivée ou avant leur départ d’un pays de la zone.

Il est important de noter que la Commission européenne prévoit que les États membres puissent également utiliser ce nouveau certificat à des fins autres que les voyages internationaux. En d’autres termes, il pourrait devenir obligatoire de le présenter à l’entrée dans une épicerie, une salle de concert ou un parc.

En tant que journaliste indépendant d’un journal luxembourgeois, j’ai interviewé en janvier la ministre de la Santé de mon pays, Paulette Lenert. Elle ne voyait absolument pas la nécessité d’un passeport vaccinal et envisageait de s’opposer probablement à une règle exigeant d’un citoyen luxembourgeois de renseigner son statut médical à une frontière. Elle a également souligné qu’un tel arrangement ne ferait qu’aggraver les controverses sur les vaccins.

Néanmoins, quelques mois plus tard, l’Union européenne est sur le point de déployer la proposition, sa présidence portugaise s’étant engagée à présenter un projet révisé d’ici le 14 avril. Les diplomates ne s’attendent toujours pas à ce que le programme soit mis en œuvre de manière réaliste avant juillet, étant donné que l’inter-opérabilité de ce projet est une tâche difficile. Il semble cependant que plus personne ne remette fondamentalement l’idée en question.

L’Union européenne semble vraiment céder aux demandes d’États membres comme la Grèce, qui a insisté sur le passeport dans le but de soutenir son industrie du tourisme. Athènes ne semble pas préoccupée par les implications plus larges d’un tel passeport électronique sur l’obligation vaccinale formelle.

LE PASSEPORT VACCINAL ET LA VIE PRIVÉE

Du point de vue de la vie privée, il est préoccupant que le passeport vaccinal européen expose des informations de santé sensibles aux pirates informatiques, nationaux et étrangers à propos de la vaccination, les résultats des tests et même des informations médicales relatives à la guérison du Covid. À cet égard, la Global Privacy Assembly a souligné que la protection de la vie privée devrait être au premier plan des considérations, suggérant entre autres que:

Des clauses d’extinction devraient être intégrées dans la conception de tels systèmes, prévoyant la suppression permanente de ces données ou bases de données, reconnaissant que le traitement de routine des informations sur la santé du Covid-19 aux frontières peut devenir inutile une fois la pandémie terminée.

L’Association du transport aérien international a déjà introduit son propre pass voyage fin 2020. Même si elle prétend que tout est fait avec une technologie décentralisée, les détails restent rares, ce qui n’est pas rassurant.

La Commission européenne a affirmé que le système européen ne nécessiterait que des informations essentielles qui incluraient des données de vaccin ou de test ainsi qu’un identifiant unique pour le certificat.

Dans sa proposition, elle prévoit également un système décentralisé:

Le certificat vert numérique ne devrait pas exiger la mise en place et la maintenance d’une base de données au niveau de l’UE, mais devrait permettre la vérification décentralisée des certificats interopérables signés numériquement. 

Les fuites de données sont malheureusement assez courantes. Ainsi en janvier, une violation de données à l’Agence européenne des médicaments a conduit des pirates informatiques à publier sur internet des documents confidentiels concernant les médicaments et vaccins Covid-19.

Une configuration décentralisée devrait soi-disant permettre de faire face à ce risque, mais si toutes sortes d’informations sensibles sont stockées sur les téléphones des citoyens, ils devront faire preuve d’une attention renforcée lors de l’utilisation de leur appareil.

D’après l’expérience passée, on peut donc s’attendre à très rapidement entendre des histoires d’abus d’informations, ainsi que d’importantes fuites de données.

LE PASSEPORT VACCINAL ET L’ÉQUITÉ

Au-delà des aspects techniques du passeport numérique pour les vaccins, nous devons également considérer cela du point de vue de l’équité.

Une grande partie du monde en développement est très éloignée de l’accès à un vaccin contre le Covid. Imposer un nouvel obstacle aussi insurmontable aux personnes originaires d’Asie ou d’Afrique, en plus des exigences de visa existantes, est tout simplement cruel, un cas que j’ai également présenté lors d’une apparition sur Consumer Choice Radio et dans un article pour The Dispatch.

En outre, il convient de noter que de nombreux pays européens proposent des tests gratuits, ce qui est susceptible de s’arrêter à mesure que les vaccinations seront déployées. Les voyageurs devront donc financer les tests requis, ce qui peut être assez coûteux pour certains d’entre eux.

LE PASSEPORT VACCINAL ET LES DÉMOCRATIES LIBÉRALES

Les démocraties libérales devraient simplement s’abstenir de la mesure intrusive d’un passeport vaccinal. Les gouvernements ne devraient pas être en mesure de demander nos données sur la santé, que nous entrions dans un bar ou au bureau des passeports de l’aéroport.

En effet, c’est ce qui sépare les pays libres de la Chine et d’autres nations asiatiques, même si leur gestion de Covid a été supérieure. Être à l’abri de ce virus ne devrait pas être la seule norme. Pouvoir voyager sans être embêté par des agents de l’État et pouvoir refuser de divulguer des informations médicales privées sont des droits fondamentaux.

En plus de cela, nous devons faire très attention à la pente glissante que constituerait un passeport vaccinal européen. Rien n’est aussi permanent qu’une mesure gouvernementale temporaire. Le passeport vaccinal pourrait devenir pérenne à long terme, une quantité croissante de renseignements personnels serait recueillie sous le prétexte de la santé et de la sécurité publiques.

Il est également important de prendre en compte la légitimité qu’un tel passeport confère aux pays autoritaires. Si l’Union européenne le fait, quels seront ses arguments pour reprocher à des régimes comme la Russie, la Biélorussie ou l’Afrique du Nord d’enregistrer des informations sur la santé pendant une durée indéterminée ? Comme le fait valoir Adam Mazik dans The Conservative, de nombreuses lois violant les droits civils dans des pays comme la Russie ont souvent été calquées sur leur équivalent européen.

LES CONSÉQUENCES SUR L’ESPACE SCHENGEN

Le passeport vaccinal européen peut également porter atteinte à l’espace Schengen sur le long terme. Les compagnies aériennes pourraient être en mesure de vérifier le certificat numérique sans grande difficulté pendant le processus d’embarquement. Mais si les États membres appliquent avec sérieux les règles de voyage, aucun transfert en bateau, train ou passage de frontière en voiture ne devrait être exempté de ces contrôles. À moins que cela ne soit fait au niveau de l’espace Schengen, mais les douze derniers mois montrent à quel point ses pays sont réticents à coordonner leurs politiques de santé.

En plus de tout cela, la question reste de savoir si les forces de l’ordre auront la possibilité de procéder à un contrôle aléatoire du passeport vaccinal par exemple en interpellant les gens dans les rues. Voulons-nous vraiment d’un tel certificat et de ses potentielles dérives ?

Une pétition contre le certificat de vaccin européen a déjà reçu plus de 200 000 signatures en ligne. On peut s’attendre à plus d’opposition.

Le passeport vaccinal européen signifie vraiment une augmentation des pouvoirs de l’État qui devrait faire frémir quiconque apprécie les libertés individuelles et le respect de la vie privée. Il est grand temps de mettre fin au processus bureaucratique en train de le déployer.

Originally published here.

The global organizations and populists who aim to seize COVID vaccine tech and IP

When Donald Trump claimed in September 2020 that every American would have access to vaccines by April 2021, his comments received scorn. The Washington Post said his claims were “without evidence,” CNN quoted health experts who said it was impossible, and The New York Times claimed it would take another decade.

Now, a year into this pandemic, nearly half of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose in the U.S., and distribution has been opened to every American adult.

Operation Warp Speed, which invested tax dollars and helped reduce bureaucracy across the board, has contributed to what has truly been a miraculous effort by vaccine firms.

While Trump’s proclamations eventually become true and the question of vaccine ability has been settled, there is now pressure on the Biden administration to turn over domestic vaccine supply to countries with skyrocketing cases.

On Sunday, the U.S. declared it will send additional medical supplies to India, currently experiencing the largest global spike in cases.

But at international bodies, countries and activist groups are petitioning for far more: they want to force biotech companies to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and COVID-related medical technology.

Along with nearly 100 other countries, India and South Africa are the architects of a motion at the World Trade Organization called a TRIPS Waiver (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

If the waiver is triggered, it would ostensibly nullify IP protections on COVID vaccines, allowing other countries to copy the formulas developed by private vaccine firms to inoculate their populations and play into the hands of future governments more hostile to private innovation.

This week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with the heads of the various vaccine makers to discuss the proposal, but it is uncertain if the Biden administration will support the measure at the WTO.

While many companies have voluntarily pledged to sell them at cost or even offered to share information with other firms, this measure would have more far-reaching implications.

This coalition seeking the TRIPS waiver includes Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who first backed this effort in 2020 before any coronavirus vaccine was approved.

They claim that because COVID represents such a global threat and because western governments have poured billions in securing and helping produce vaccines, low and middle-income countries should be relieved of the burden of purchasing them.

Considering the specialized knowledge needed to develop these vaccines and the cold storage infrastructure required to distribute them, it seems implausible that any of this could be achieved outside the traditional procurement contracts we’ve seen in the European Union and the U.S.

That said, rather than celebrating the momentous innovation that has led to nearly a dozen globally-approved vaccines to fight a deadly pandemic in record time, these groups are trumpeting a populist message that pits so-called “rich” countries against poor ones.

Intellectual property rights are protections that help foster innovation and provide legal certainty to innovators so that they can profit from and fund their efforts. A weakening of IP rules would actively hurt the most vulnerable who depend on innovative medicines and vaccines.

If the cost of researching and producing a COVID vaccine is truly $1 billion as is claimed, with no guarantee of success, there are relatively few biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies that can stomach that cost.

BioNTech, the German company headed by the husband-wife team of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci that partnered with Pfizer for trials and distribution of their mRNA vaccine, was originally founded to use mRNA to cure cancer.

Before the pandemic, they took on massive debt and scrambled to fund their research. Once the pandemic began, they pivoted their operations and produced one of the first mRNA COVID vaccines, which hundreds of millions of people have received.

With billions in sales to governments and millions in direct private investment, we can expect the now-flourishing BioNTech to be at the forefront of mRNA cancer research, which could give us a cure. The same is true of the many orphan and rare diseases that do not otherwise receive major funding.

Would this have been possible without intellectual property protections?

Moderna, for its part, has stated it will not enforce the IP rights on its mRNA vaccine and will hand over any research to those who can scale up production. The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have pledged to sell it at cost until the pandemic is over.

While this should smash the narrative presented by the populists and international organizations who wish to obliterate IP rights, instead they have doubled down, stating that these companies should hand over all research and development to countries that need them.

If we want to be able to confront and end this pandemic, we will continue to need innovation from both the vaccine makers and producers who make this possible. Granting a one-time waiver will create a precedent of nullifying IP rights for a host of other medicines, which would greatly endanger future innovation and millions of potential patients.

Especially in the face of morphing COVID variants, we need all incentives on the table to protect us against the next phase of the virus. 

Rather than seeking to tear them down those who have performed the miracle of quick, cheap, and effective vaccines, we should continue supporting their innovations by defending their intellectual property rights.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

After Covid disaster surely game’s up for pitiable World Health Organizaton COMMENT

SINCE the first case of Covid was detected in Wuhan in December 2019, the coronavirus has infected more than 130 million people across the world, killing almost three million.

Many thousands of words have been written about the failures of local health authorities like Public Health England in preparing us for a pandemic, but perhaps the most important body of all has still not been properly held to account: the World Health Organization. Before 2020, most Brits probably didn’t know very much, if anything, about the WHO. It’s an arm of the United Nations, like the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization, spending most of its time working away in the background to safeguard against health emergencies, leaving the rest of us to get on with our lives.

Except, of course, as we have now learned, the WHO was wilfully neglecting its duties and generally doing a terrible job, at enormous cost.

The WHO was wildly unprepared for the pandemic – with tragic consequences – because it spent much of its time playing politics rather than serving its purpose.

It failed to do any of the things it should have done when the virus first broke out, even those as fundamental as being transparent about what was going on.

It wasted valuable time before declaring a pandemic. It cosied up to China rather than tracing the origin of the virus. It issued actively harmful advice against masks.

Put simply, it is hard to imagine how a well-funded body charged with protecting people’s health could possibly have performed any worse.

Even putting aside its appallingly close political relationship with the dictatorial, genocidal Chinese Communist Party, the WHO failed to perform its most basic function, tripping up at every hurdle.

If the world had been better prepared, perhaps Covid would not have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions of people.

The WHO has form when it comes to mishandling epidemics. During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and again during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it came in for widespread criticism.

One of the factors singled out as a cause of its mismanagement of these crises was an aversion to offending member states, in exactly the same way that it is now loath to offend China.

There’s no reason why these awful failures should be the new normal. In the 20th century, the WHO was effectively responsible for eradicating smallpox. But since then, things seem to have gone drastically downhill.

The WHO has patently failed to adequately address the scourge of anti-vaxxers leading to diseases like measles, which were all but eradicated, but which are now making a comeback around the world.

The WHO also received widespread criticism from animal conservation groups for recognising traditional Chinese medicine in its international guidelines after lobbying by Beijing, despite its role in driving the illegal trade and poaching of endangered species including pangolins and tigers — a trade that might ironically have contributed to the coronavirus’s outbreak in the first place.

The problems with the WHO run deep. It should not have taken a once-in-a-generation health disaster to expose them.

It’s time to ask some existential and probing questions. What is the WHO? What is it for? Where are its vast funds coming from? At the moment, it is trying to pretend it is both a humble, do-gooder charity which just has our best interests at heart and an all-powerful supranational organisation. It wants to be the undisputed centre of power for healthcare around the world, but without ever being held accountable for its actions. If the WHO is a charity, it should not be playing politics and cosying up to dictatorial regimes. If it’s not a charity, it must be subject to proper democratic oversight.

The WHO has not expressed any hint of remorse over its failures. There is no reason to think it is going to voluntarily change the way it operates. It’s high time for the rest of us to stand up to it and demand some answers.

Originally published here.

The Commission’s great U-Turn on mRNA vaccines

Here’s a change of heart we can support…

Back in January I published a blog post on this site asking the question of whether the new generation of COVID-19 vaccines will change our view on genetic engineering. In a statement back in July last year, the European Parliament said that “The derogation will facilitate the development, authorisation and consequently availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments”. According to EU legislation dating back to the early 2000s, genetic engineering is generally forbidden, with only a few exceptions. This was particularly driven by the scepticism of genetic engineering in agriculture. The Pfizer/Biontech, which to date remains the most prominent and incidentally most trusted COVID-19, something that surveys have also shown with our friends in the United States.

Now, the Commission is surfing the wave of the popularity of this vaccine in order to bank on mRNA shots for fighting COVID-19. And, as Euractiv reports, more voices are supportive of these vaccines in the fight against future pandemics: “Commenting on the news, centre-right MEP Peter Liese said he supported the decision to move towards mRNA vaccines, pointing out that they can be better adapted to mutations.”

Peter Liese is to be commended for his statement on this matter. Indeed, this new technology which relies on genetic engineering is very promising. For some experts, mRNA vaccines hold the key to faster and more effective vaccine programmes, capable of fighting multiple viruses in a single injection or providing protection against recalcitrant diseases (diseases characterised by poor survival and with little progress made in developing novel treatments).

In January, Moderna launched new programmes to develop mRNA vaccines for Nipah virus, HIV and influenza, adding to its portfolio of 20 mRNA candidates. Pfizer is also developing new mRNA vaccines, including one for seasonal flu. Several dozen other manufacturers and laboratories around the world are currently involved in similar initiatives.

The use of mRNA as a therapeutic or vaccine technique has been studied and developed for over a decade. Its interest seems to go beyond the field of vaccines against infectious diseases and also concerns cancers (see, for example, the immunotherapy products under development at BioNTech, or diseases with an autoimmune component (a treatment against multiple sclerosis is under development at BioNTech).

COVID-19 will have accelerated the large-scale evaluation of mRNA technologies. It is likely that this approach will expand massively in the coming years, also benefiting from advances in microencapsulation (nanoparticle) technologies. This technology could be refined by allowing nanoparticles to target specific cells by adding specific recognition molecules (e.g. ligands, receptors, antibodies) to the particle membrane. It will then be possible to deliver mRNA only to cells that need it (e.g. to compensate for the absence of a protein in genetic diseases, as with gene therapy, or to eliminate infected or tumour cells).

However, for this to happen the European Union ought to change its general approach to genetic engineering. While the support for the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is commendable, more needs to be done from the point of view of legislation. There is a significant logical discrepancy when we are ready to use genetic engineering for medical purposes, but we somehow reject it in the field of agriculture. There are comparable health benefits to using similar technologies in our food; not least since the invention of vitamin B-heavy Golden Rice for the Asian market have genetically modified foods shown to be inherently linked to healthier food. On top of that, we can achieve our climate ambitions through new technologies that consume less resources at higher yields.

Originally published here.

Does the CDC’s Mask Mandate for 2-Year-Old Children Make Sense? A Look at the Science

The justifications for requiring young children to be masked are that either they are at-risk for COVID, or at-risk for being carriers of the virus.

In the age of COVID, flying carries significant risks for you and your family.

Part of that is the virus itself, but increasingly, parents are being kicked off flights because their young children are refusing to wear facemasks.

Across the US and Canada, hundreds of stories have been highlighted in which families have been physically removed from flights because their toddlers did not want to wear masks.

Whether it is on SouthwestJetBlueAmerican AirlinesSpirit Airlines, or United, practically every US airline has had a version of the horror story of a young family escorted off a flight because a kid didn’t want to wear a mask. There have been cases where single mothers with up to six children have been booted, and even kids who were eating before the flight took off.

Worse, many of these airlines permanently ban passengers who refuse to comply with this policy, even children.

This particularly concerns me as I will soon be taking an international flight back to the US with my two-year-old. She has never been forced to wear a mask, whether in daycare or travel in Europe, and I doubt she will leave it tight and snug for the 9-hour long-haul. Should I already have my lawyer on speed dial?

While many airlines have had similar policies for months, those rules are now based on an administrative order published by the Centers for Disease Control on January 29, 2021, following one of the bevy of executive orders signed by President Joe Biden in his first few days in office.

While Biden’s order requires masks for domestic and international travel, he leaves the specific guidelines to the CDC. But even though the CDC has been stringent on its rule of masks for all persons two and above, this directly contradicts what we know about COVID-19 and children.

At present, the justifications for requiring young children to be masked are that either they are at-risk for COVID, or at-risk for being carriers of the virus.

On the first point, all the available data we have from multiple studies in dozens of countries shows that children are not particularly at risk for hospitalization or death.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 13.4 percent of COVID cases have been adolescent children under 18, mostly in the older age range. Young children fared better.

As of December 2020, when we had the most complete age breakdown, children 0-4 represented 1.3 percent of all COVID cases in the United States, at 212,879. Just over 2 percent of those were hospitalized (0.02 percent in total), and 52 in total had died.

For statewide data, in California, with the most number of cases in the country, there have so far been two COVID deaths recorded for children under five.

While every death related to COVID is indeed tragic, especially when it relates to young children, the relative risk is incredibly low.

But what about young children spreading the disease to their parents and grandparents?

A CDC-conducted study in Rhode Island in July 2020 found that the opening of childcare centers did not lead to a spread of coronavirus.

Further, one Icelandic study from December found that young children were half as likely to catch and spread the virus, and that “infected adults pose a greater danger to children than kids do to adults.”

A wide-ranging study conducted in Israel and published in February found that young people under 20 carry 63 percent less viral load than adults, meaning they have less propensity to spread the virus. That number is even lower among toddlers.

While the headlines would have us believe otherwise, with all the available data we have now, young children under six are not significant spreaders of COVID, even with potential variants.

Beyond that, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, citing studies from Sweden and the World Health Organization, recommended in the Wall Street Journal that we avoid masking children up until at least 11, considering the low risk of infection and the very real hazard of stunting kids’ developmental progress.

Bhattacharya was one of the many prominent medical experts present—along with Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, and Scott Atlas of Stanford—at the COVID roundtable held last month by Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis. All advised against masking children for various health reasons, though their views have now been banned from YouTube for discussing the topic.

Bans aside, the medical literature largely supports Bhattacharya’s claims that the benefits of masking children are “small to none,” while the costs are high.

How then can the CDC continue to mandate that toddlers wear masks on long travel journeys, especially when they cause a fraction of the risk of an adult? These rules seem to have been written by people who do not have young children, and do not understand why it is problematic.

To leave the toddler mask mandate in place severely limits the freedom of children and young families to travel, and stands against the scientific and medical facts.

If ever there was a time to allow science to inform our judgments, it is now. Otherwise, this is nothing more than pandemic theatre.

Originally published here.

Preparing for the next virus

The Consumer Choice Center’s Fred Roeder and Maria Chaplia report on a recent event that looked at why the EU must safeguard intellectual property rights to prepare for future pandemics.

COVID-19 took its toll on millions of people and even more are suffering from the economic consequences of the pandemic. Instead of increasing our pandemic preparedness, we are seeing more and more populist calls, both at EU and Member State level, for the erosion of intellectual property (IP) rights, jeopardising the future of innovation. COVID-19 is likely only the first of many public health crises we will encounter in the next decades, and we need to keep innovators incentivised and provide them with legislative certainty. The EU has to commit to the protection of IP rights and champion it not just at home, but globally through EU trade policy.

Policies enacted during the pandemic have predominantly come as kneejerk reactions to issues on the ground, rather than well thought out plans. As we have witnessed in the case of lockdowns and trade restrictions, acting fast without considering long-term costs can be devastating. At a global level, that also involves continuous calls for the extension of the TRIPS waiver, a clause that would allow World Trade Organization members to lift protections on certain intellectual property rights.

Rushing such decisions could imperil entire generations. Safeguarding IP rights is our only chance to make it possible for patients who will one day be diagnosed with incurable diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, to ever be cured.

“There are simply not enough doses of vaccines, and the vision of the EU future should be not only green and digital, but also resilient,” Franc Bogovič MEP (SI, EPP)

European policymakers should put their pursuit of short-term approval from the voters aside and reconsider the role of intellectual property rights in preventing future pandemics and, overall, what could have been done better. This was one of the key questions of an online discussion between Franc Bogovic MEP and James Tumbridge, Common Councilman of the City of London, that we at the Consumer Choice Center hosted on 19 February.

COVID-19 in Europe: Is the EU losing the vaccine race?

When it comes to Covid vaccinations, Germany stands accused of buying up extra doses, while other EU countries simply aren’t taking all the doses they’re allowed.

Is the financial muscle of Germany at play here as the country is said to be looking after its own interests at the expense of others?

The Consumer Choice Center Managing Director Fred Roeder joined the Roundtable show at TRT World to discuss #COVID19 and #vaccines in #Europe.

There’s no scientific need to expose Australians to suffering. We need vaccine reciprocity now

Getty Images

As the city of Brisbane once again goes into full lockdown, borders remain closed, and businesses nation-wide are being decimated, the Australian bureaucracy still refuses to allow its citizens access to the Covid-19 vaccine citing their own approval timetable. The good news is that the fix is easier than many think, and includes valuable lessons for any future pandemic Australia may face.  

With merely 28,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths, Australia has been fairly well shielded from this global pandemic. But the price individuals and the whole economy paid for this is high: Australians are not allowed to leave the country, while tens of thousands of Australians are stranded overseas, unable to return home. Thousands of businesses have closed, and the tourism and hospitality industries have been devastated. State border closures have led to tragedies such as twin babies dying as border closures prevented the mother from giving birth at a hospital near her. Another mother miscarried after border closures prevented her from accessing immediate medical care. Other families were prevented from visiting their children in intensive care, and the list goes on.  

Bizarrely however, Australia’s government and regulatory bodies seem to be content with this strategy and seem to have no desire to get society back to normal. Until last week, the federal government was not contemplating rolling out inoculations until the end of march — a decision fortunately revised to mid-February but either way, Australia is months behind the global efforts to start vaccinating, and it suggests Australia’s regulatory agencies are not currently prepared to act as quickly as needed in a future pandemic. An international comparison shows how drastic the regulatory backlog is down under:

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (approved an effective COVID19 vaccine on December 2. By early January the same regulator allowed two additional vaccines to be used by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists around the country. And while the UK was the fastest to approve these highly needed vaccines, other countries followed quickly and managed to roll out mass vaccination at lightspeed. The UK, EU, Japan and Canada are rolling out vaccines, and as of writing three Middle Eastern countries spearhead the global race to immunize wide parts of society; Israel has vaccinated nearly one-fifth of its population, with a plan to have every citizen vaccinated by the end of March, the United Arab Emirates have provided 9 per cent of its resident with at least one jab, and Bahrain holds the third place with having reached 4 per cent of its people so far. 

Despite the international success of vaccine rollouts, and the opportunity it presents to save both lives and the economy on which people’s lives depend, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration initially announced that it will approve the first vaccine only by late March 2021. That is nearly four months later than the UK’s or United States’ approval. Prime Minister Morrison has now announced that they will bring the approval forward to mid- or late-February but that still is still over a month longer than it needs to be  

These continued delays show the dangerous exceptionalism Australia’s government applies in this global public health crisis. Can the government really justify prolonged lockdowns, COVID cases, and deaths if there are already multiple effective vaccines used across developed countries?  There is no reason for the TGA to come to different conclusions than the UK’s MHRA, the US’ FDA, and the EU’s EMA: Australians are not a separate species who will somehow react differently and need additional studies. Bureaucratic inertia and a refusal to alter rigid timetables despite the circumstances, and a nationalist belief Australians need to do everything ourselves, is a degree of arrogance that comes at a great cost.   

Australians should demand mutual recognition of vaccine approvals (also called reciprocity) in vaccine approval with all regulatory agencies based in OECD countries. The costs of delaying the vaccination rollout are simply too high to justify the ongoing arrogance of the TGA. Given that all reputable medicines agencies across the OECD have already given their blessing, patients in Australia should receive immediate access to immunization shots. 

As a new and more virulent strain of Covid-19 has already begun circulating in Australia, the need for a vaccine has become even more urgent, particularly given evidence released today has proven the vaccine is effective against this mutation. Future COVID cases, deaths, and economic bankruptcies could be quickly prevented if the government acts swiftly by burying its ego. In addition, the next pandemic is likely to come sooner than later. A more agile vaccine approval system needs to be in place by then, so we can quickly respond to any potential future challenges. Reciprocity among OECD countries is an easy fix. Accepting our partners approval of vaccines is Australia’s quick and easy way out of the current situation and will ensure a swift and safe return to normal.

Admitting Australian’s don’t have to do everything ourselves will save lives and is the only moral course of action for the Government to take.  

Fred Roeder is a health economist and Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center. Tim Andrews is the Founder of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and presently Director of Consumer Issues at Americans for Tax Reform.  

Originally published here.

How West Virginia, one of America’s poorest and most rural states, became a leader in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine

By comparison, Canada’s vaccine rollout has been glacial

Every health-care professional qualified to give a needle, draw blood or provide other vaccines, should be authorized to give the COVID-19 vaccine, writes David Clement. PHOTO BY MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

The average Canadian doesn’t know much about West Virginia. For most of us, familiarity with the state is limited to cheap stereotypes or John Denver’s classic country music song “Take me home, country roads.” Little did we know that the Mountain State, ignored by many, would end up a leader in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.

While Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was battling it out on Twitter with Liberals over who should get priority vaccinations, West Virginia delivered, and offered, a COVID-19 vaccine to every single person currently residing in a long-term care home. You read that right. Every single person who wanted the vaccine, in each and every one of West Virginia’s 214 long-term care homes, has been vaccinated. West Virginia’s rollout has been so successful it will start vaccinating teachers and school staff next week.

To do a better job rolling out the vaccine, Canadian provinces should follow West Virginia’s lead

Canadians should be both astonished and outraged. The virus has killed more than 16,000 of our fellow citizens, and more than 80 per cent of those deaths have been people living in long-term care homes. How has West Virginia, one of the United States’ poorest and most rural states, accomplished the seemingly impossible?

First off, it sidestepped Operation Warp Speed’s recommendation for two main vaccine facilitators (CVS and Walgreens). Instead, it decentralized as much as it could and partnered with hundreds of pharmacies, both independent and chain, to deliver and administer the vaccines in long-term care homes. Pharmacies with sufficient cold storage and backup generators were mobilized in a hub-and-spoke model that tasked each pharmacy with ensuring local long-term care vaccinations. This, alongside the state’s not getting too bureaucratic about its priority schedule, helped these pharmacies take only two weeks to give every single long-term care resident their first dose of the vaccine. This hub-and-spoke model, coupled with the less rigid priority schedule, allowed for the state to be far more dynamic, which is why the rollout was 50 per cent quicker than originally planned.

By comparison, Canada’s vaccine rollout has been glacial. Our federal government was late to procure vaccines, and although it overcompensated by mass-purchasing vaccines from virtually all providers, we’re too far down most providers’ lists to get supplies quickly. Provinces have also dropped the ball. Ontario, for example, made the mistake of pausing vaccinations over the Christmas break, as if the virus has any regard for our holiday schedule. Our long-term care workers were certainly in need of a holiday break, but couldn’t other qualified professionals have helped fill the gap over the holidays?

When we compare Canada with our international counterparts, the depressing nature of our reality sets in. As of Jan. 8, we were vaccinating approximately 31 times slower than Israel, 15 times slower than the United Arab Emirates, seven times slower than Bahrain, three times slower than the U.K., 2.8 times slower than the U.S., 2.8 times slower than Denmark, 2.3 times slower than Iceland, and 1.2 times slower than Slovenia and Italy. If the trend continues, almost all of Europe could pass Canada within the next seven to 10 days.

To do a better job rolling out the vaccine, Canadian provinces should follow West Virginia’s lead. We should call in pharmacies and other health-care providers to help so that we exhaust our supply as soon and safely as possible. Every health-care professional qualified to give a needle, draw blood or provide other vaccines, should be authorized to give the COVID-19 vaccine. Going this route ensures we have as many access points as possible, at each stage, which in turn means we aren’t left twiddling our thumbs while provincial authorities stumble their way through the rollout.

A more rapid rollout that exhausts supply as quickly as possible puts more pressure on the federal government to ensure quicker delivery for the vaccine orders it has secured. Right now, the two levels of government are pointing fingers at each other. A faster provincial rollout would prevent Ottawa from passing the buck on its procurement responsibilities. That’s exactly the position West Virginia is in right now. When the state’s “COVID czar,” Dr. Clay Marsh, was asked what Washington could do to help, his response was simple: “Give us more vaccines!”

Because of vaccines the end of the pandemic is in view. Canadians have accepted a lot during the COVID crisis. They will not accept that we have so few doses and can’t seem to administer the short supply we do have. Politicians at both levels of government need a kick in the pants. Looking at West Virginia could and should get things moving in the right direction.

David Clement is North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

Réglementation sur les créneaux horaires dans l’aviation: la concurrence doit primer

La Commission européenne a encore une fois prolongé la dérogation à la réglementation des créneaux horaires. Applaudie comme étant une aide au secteur, cette dérogation garantit encore une fois l’avantage aux entreprises établies leur permettant de contourner la concurrence. Comment est-ce que le secteur aérien peut s’améliorer si à chaque crise nous dépensons l’argent du contribuable pour le sauver.

Le secteur aérien distribue une partie des créneaux horaires commes des réservations de route. Ceci s’applique de façon générale aux aéroports les plus utilisés. Par exemple, la compagnie X réserve un aller-retour depuis un aéroport et sera contrainte par cette réservation. Cela veut dire que l’avion devra partir, même s’il n’y a pas de passagers, afin de garantir la place de la compagnie sur ce créneau horaire. Ceci provoque ce qu’on a nommé des “ghost flights” (vols fantômes), où les compagnies envoient des avions vides afin de ne pas perdre leur place. Cette réglementation avait été créée afin d’éviter une concentration dans le secteur aérien. A titre d’exemple, une compagnie pourrait réserver tous les créneaux disponibles dans un aéroport spécifique (si elle a le cashflow nécessaire), afin d’empêcher toute concurrence.

Au début de la crise du COVID-19, la Commission européenne avait décidé d’une dérogation à cette réglementation. A court terme, ceci fût une bonne décision. Par contre, une nouvelle extension de la dérogation est un non-sens, car la concurrence, même si amoindrie par la pandémie, existe tout de même. Les créneaux horaires des aéroports sont rares, et c’est pourquoi ils sont si précieux et doivent être utilisés de la manière la plus efficace possible. Bien que conçue  par de nobles objectifs, la politique de la Commission implique que les compagnies aériennes sont les seules propriétaires des créneaux horaires.

La dérogation actuelle à l’obligation de voler n’expirera qu’en mars 2021. De nombreuses associations ont demandé à la Commission de prolonger la dérogation “pour éviter que des avions vides ne volent” ainsi qu’afin que  “les vols soient effectués de la manière la plus optimale possible pour éviter de la pollution inutile”. Toutefois, la prolongation créerait une situation dans laquelle les plus grandes compagnies aériennes auraient la possibilité de monopoliser les créneaux horaires, rendant impossible l’entrée des plus petites. Cela explique pourquoi les compagnies à bas prix comme Wizz Air s’opposent à la prolongation à cette dérogation, la qualifiant d’anticoncurrentielle et que “cela entraverait plutôt que n’aiderait à la reprise de l’industrie aéronautique de l’UE et, par conséquent, des économies européennes”. 

Si la Commission n’a certainement pas l’intention de protéger les grandes compagnies aériennes en renonçant à l’obligation de détenir des créneaux horaires, c’est cependant une conséquence évidente de cette décision. La propriété des créneaux horaires dans les aéroports ne devrait pas être statique. Au contraire, elle devrait faire l’objet d’une rotation constante entre les compagnies aériennes afin de garantir l’attribution la plus efficace possible des installations et d’encourager une utilisation responsable des aéroports. La règle “use-it-or-leave-it” est, en ce sens, juste et équitable, et devrait être maintenue à tout moment.

L’aviation a changé notre vie à bien des égards. Maintenant que les consommateurs de toute l’Europe ont pu goûter à la vie sans voyager, ils souhaiteraient prendre l’avion davantage, et non moins, une fois la pandémie passée. La Commission européenne devrait veiller à ce que les consommateurs aient la possibilité de choisir entre plusieurs compagnies aériennes, en tenant compte de leurs contraintes budgétaires. Pour y parvenir, les grandes compagnies et les compagnies à bas prix doivent être traitées sur un pied d’égalité et se faire concurrence pour les créneaux horaires dans les aéroports.

Le secteur de l’aviation peut être soutenu par l’allégement des taxes locales sur les compagnies aériennes et par des mesures de déréglementation. Cependant, ce genre de mesures doit être équitable pour tous, afin de garantir un maximum de concurrence et par ce biais, de choix pour les consommateurs.

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