Access to vaccines is a right, not a privilege!

Some of the richest families and individuals—Sy siblings, Enrique Razon Jr., Ramon Ang, and Joey Concepcion—made headlines last week in their move to procure large supplies of COVID-19 vaccines through advance market commitments (AMCs), earning them profuse thanks and praises from the National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. Such moves could not be more undeserving of praise.

Even when Galvez mentions charitably that 50% to 80% of the procured doses will be donated, with the rest distributed to their “essential” workers at no cost, there is no solid guarantee of this which can hold them accountable should they choose otherwise.

Not only that, whether “essential” or not, no worker should be deemed less worthy of crucial medicine to keep them safe.

Furthermore, AMCs are a way for companies to purchase products such as vaccines in bulk from pharmaceutical companies under the sense that they should resell them at an “affordable” price, while also incentivizing and reinforcing the exclusive rights of pharmaceutical companies to the manufacture of life-saving medicine.

This damning profit-oriented approach to solving the pandemic is only made possible from the fact that the World Health Assembly continues to deny the vaccines as a global public good to be accessed at little to no cost, despite the enormous death toll and pain it has caused worldwide.

At a time of immense humanitarian crisis brought on by the pandemic and economic fallout all over the world, profiteering from life-saving medicine, from basic right to health, should not just be avoided but actively fought.

Leaving vaccines and other social services in the private sector’s mercy leaves behind the ordinary people who are no less deserving of services yet cannot afford them.

That the government should allow and praise these moves against the health of the greater public as though it is charity not only reveals their active neglect of the people but also their ruthless opportunism to benefit alongside their elite, capitalist allies.

Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) condemns the overreliance towards the private sector of the Duterte regime.

We demand the entire National Task Force Against COVID-19 to junk its plans to simply rely on the Philippine’s richest to raise funds in a primarily private-led effort to procure vaccines through AMCs.

Instead of having the rich handle the government’s own job of procurement for their narrow profit-oriented interests, they must be taxed heavily to cover overhead costs of a purely public-led effort to procure vaccines for the Filipino people.

SPARK demands the national government to stop pampering and licking the boots of the richest Filipinos, and instead redirect its energy towards maximizing other means such as compulsory licensing as stipulated in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement from the Doha Declaration of the World Trade Organization in order to acquire the rights to export and distribute effective COVID-19 vaccines for at the very least a price which is affordable for the country’s poorest citizens, and at best, completely free—regardless of whether one is an “essential worker” or not.

SPARK also calls on international financial institutions to waive completely any requirements necessary for availing of compulsory licenses to export potential vaccines for developing nations such as the Philippines.

It must be treated as a matter of humanitarian response, and likewise, no companies must be allowed to reap massive profits from the export of their vaccines.

We finally assert that now is not a time for “vaccine nationalism” or squabbling over issues of intellectual property rights that only benefit massive multinational corporations.

Vaccines—especially for a disease as prevalent as COVID-19—must be treated as a public good in the so-called “new normal,” and not a mere profitable industry by multinational pharmaceutical corporations.