world health organization

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.

Global Consumer Group Calls for Defunding WHO, Praises Trump’s Probe

Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group, is launching a campaign to defund the World Health Organization (WHO) and is praising President Donald Trump for his remarks at Tuesday’s coronavirus press briefing when he said he would be looking into the massive funding the United States gives to WHO annually.

Trump at the press briefing criticized how WHO had not been transparent about the coronavirus and its genesis and evolution in China.

“They called it wrong … we’re gonna put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” Trump said. “We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it.”

“It’s a good thing when it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that’s no good,” Trump said.

“President Trump’s decision speaks to the larger inefficiencies and issues of transparency and accountability that have plagued the World Health Organization in recent years,” Yaël Ossowski, deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, said in a statement he distributed to the press.

“While the failures of the WHO have only recently gotten publicity, this has been a long time coming,” Ossowski said.

Ossowski outlined some of those inefficiencies in his statement.

“It has been revealed that the WHO spends up to $200 million per year, or $28,500 per staffer, on travel costs alone, more than the budgets of combatting AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined,” Ossowski said. “Not to mention they’ve been known to host extravagant galas and conferences that do not further global public health.”

“We witnessed this during the Ebola epidemic in western Africa in 2013-14, where the WHO was too slow to respond and inadequate in health policies, and we’re seeing it in realtime with COVID-19,” Ossowski said.

“The WHO and its Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have cozied up to the Chinese Communist Party since the beginning of the outbreak and praised their failures,” Ossowski said. “Even as late as January 19th, the WHO parroted the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative that human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus was very unlikely.”

“Now is the time to send a clear signal that the WHO needs to be transparent and accountable for their failures,” Ossowski said.

“In 2017, Consumer Choice Center led the efforts in calling on the United States and member nations to cut funding to the WHO to realign their priorities toward health emergencies such as the very real pandemic we currently face,” Ossowski said. “The WHO has failed in its principal mission and it needs to be defunded. We applaud President Trump for his bold move.”

According to the World Health Organization, the United States as a “member state” has an assessed contribution owed to the organization for 2020-2021 of $115,766,922.

The United States is the largest donor to the World Health Organization of all countries that are member states.

“We’re going to make a determination about what we’re doing,” Trump said at the daily coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday at the White House.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

The EU’s war on harm reduction is in full swing

In 2020, the Netherlands will host the ninth conference of parties of the so-called WHO-FCTC treaty. During this conference, world leaders and public health advocates discuss the ways in which smoking prevalence can be curbed.

However, these same advocates haven’t just made their policies about actual tobacco, but also about vapour: innovative e-cigarette products come under fire, even though they are provenly less harmful and help those smokers who desire to quit. EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis and the anti-tobacco European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP) are leading the charge in this fight.

In 2015, Public Health England reported that an independent review found that vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than conventional smoking. PHE confirmed this assessment in December last year.

As a result, the UK has made tobacco harm reduction a centrepiece of its policies to reduce the smoking rate, as opposed to calls for direct cessation, which are less effective.

This is also backed by current evidence: a study funded by the National Institute for Health Research UK, titled “A Randomized Trial of E-Cigarettes versus Nicotine-Replacement Therapy” in the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed the behaviour of almost 900 randomised smokers. The conclusion: e-cigarettes were more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine replacement therapy.

A public consultation by the Health Information and Quality Authority in Ireland found that e-cigarettes are used by a third of smokers as cessation tools, and are twice as effective as a placebo.

In an interview with Euractiv, EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said the exact opposite, claiming that nicotine replacement therapy was the better alternative. Andriukaitis also defended his head of cabinet, who had come under fire for calling e-cigarettes poison. The most telling quote from the Lithuanian commissioner is this one: “My question to the industry is the following: is it harmful or not to smoke? Does it cause cancer or not? Harm is harm. No matter if it’s less or more.”

That statement should make one think: here’s a European commissioner who does not believe in different degrees of harm. By that standard, we could also equate the harmfulness of eating red meat with smoking cigarettes. Both can cause cancer – and who really cares about the degree of harm caused by one or the other?

This lobby against harm reduction is coordinated by organisations such as the ENSP, which is funded by the Health and Consumer Programmes 2014-2020 of the European Union. This means that the European commissioner funds an NGO that invites the commissioner to events and features him in news articles funded by the same NGO.

It looks as if the European commission has broad support for their positions, but in reality, they are using claqueurs, which is nothing short of deception.

Andriukaitis and the ENSP are trying to change the narrative on anti-tobacco policy by framing it as a human right, and by making false statements about the science surrounding harm reduction.

In fact, their approach to anti-tobacco policy is an almost religious “if there is smoke, there must be harm”. They push policies that restrict not only consumer choice but also access to products that help those who choose to quit with innovate new solutions.

As the scientific evidence in favour of harm reduction is growing by the day, the European commission is stubbornly defending its anti-scientific approach to smoking cessation.

Yes, consumers should be able to quit smoking in a way they see fit, and that suits their needs. Restricting innovation for the sake of increasing your bucket list of “things to ban next” is not only nonsensical, it’s bad for people’s health.

The European commission should instead follow the British National Health Service’s approach to smoking cessation.

Read more here

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