EU leaders should stop squabbling and overrule pharma monopolies to boost supply

Published: 24th March 2021

The EU Council meets Thursday 25 to discuss the European-wide scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines that is sparking a dispute between European countries and the UK. The People’s Vaccine Alliance, supported by more than 50 organisations worldwide, is campaigning for free vaccines for all people around the world. It has spokespeople available for interview. 

The spat between the EU and UK over vaccine shortages was predictable and avoidable. More lives are being put at risk with COVID-19 surging again across Europe. Depending upon just a handful of pharmaceutical companies to produce enough vaccines for the world was never going to work. Yet UK and EU leaders have failed to unlock the pharmaceutical monopolies which are artificially restricting supply and blocking other manufacturers from joining the effort.  

Last week the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said “all options are on the table” to secure more vaccine supplies, including waiving intellectual property rights. Recent polling in France, Germany and Italy shows that over two-thirds of the public would support their governments in overruling pharma monopolies to ensure that safe and effective vaccines are mass produced.  

Overriding intellectual property rules and insisting companies transfer the vaccine blueprints to the World Health Organisation, in order to unlock production capacity around the world, must be top of the EU agenda. COVID-19 is an unprecedented health emergency and not the time to put the interests of a few huge Pharma corporations ahead of the safety of our loved ones.   

This dispute between rich countries does nothing to tackle the underlying cause of vaccine scarcity which is delaying the end to this pandemic. Even the UK – well ahead in its vaccine roll out – faces huge economic damage as its trading partners go largely unvaccinated and the risk of more vaccine-tolerant mutations emerge. People across Europe are suffering and dying due to lack of supply – so too are millions of people in developing countries, most of which are yet to administer a single dose. The root of this problem is the same: too little supply because of pharmaceutical monopolies. Indeed, shortages in Europe and the UK now mean they are tapping into already scarce vaccine supplies meant for poorer countries from the Serum Institute in India.  

Instead of squabbling with each other, the EU and UK should support developing countries in over-riding Big Pharma’s monopoly control over the vaccines and unlocking more supplies for Europe and the world. They can do this by waiving the companies’ intellectual property rights at the WHO and supporting the transfer of vaccine technology through the WHO’s Covid Technology Access Pool. More manufacturers are coming forward by the day from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Senegal, Denmark and Canada with offers to make vaccines but are now blocked from doing so.  

ADDENDUM 24 April. Meanwhile, India decided yesterday to pause their international exports of a COVID-19 vaccine. In response, Oxfam International’s Health Policy Manager, Anna Marriott, said:

“We are in real time witnessing the stupidity of our collective dependence on just a handful of pharmaceutical corporations who cannot produce enough vaccines for all of us. Yet rich countries continue to defend the monopoly control of these corporations to the COVID-19 vaccines. In doing so they are letting down billions of people around the world including their own citizens who are beginning to suffer the consequences now of vaccine scarcity. Instead, we need to make far more vaccines so that every country, including India, rich and poor, has enough to race to herd immunity.

India has actually led the charge with South Africa at the World Trade Organization demanding that the intellectual property rules of these big pharma companies be waived, to ensure that more manufacturers can make them. Instead of blocking this initiative as they have been doing, rich countries should immediately support it. Rich countries must also insist that vaccine recipes are shared, and invest in a truly equitable and collaborative global plan for vaccine manufacturing and distribution that ends this deadly pandemic for us all, as quickly as possible.”


Notes to editors


  • Anna Marriot, Oxfam Health Policy Manager.  

  • Dr Mohga Kamal Yanni, Global Health Expert and Senior Health Policy Advisor to The People Vaccine Alliance. 

  • Max Lawson, Oxfam Head of Inequality Policy. 

  • Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Oxfam Senior Aid Policy & Development Finance Advisor. 

  • Peter Kamalingan, Oxfam Pan Africa Programme Director. 



Contact information

Matt Grainger | OI Media Manager | +44-7730680837 | 

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