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St Andrews government advisor calls for patents to be removed on covid medicines to prevent further lockdowns

The MHRA has warned there is are "extremely rare" heart inflammation side effects associated with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid vaccines.
SAGE scientists have called for vaccine patents to be scrapped.

An eminent St Andrews scientist has warned patents and copyright on covid vaccines and medicines could incur further future lockdowns.

Professor Stephen Reicher, who advises the government’s SAGE group of scientists, has joined other leading researchers warning the “patent protection programmes” on coronavirus vaccinations could threaten the “overall security” of the UK’s pandemic plan.

Allowing the virus to spread in poorer countries could lead to new variants of Covid-19 “more virulent or resistant to vaccines” the experts have warned, which could derail the country’s vaccine programmes and force the government to reintroduce lockdown restrictions.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “we are tantalisingly close” to lifting the final swathe of coronavirus restrictions ahead of a public briefing on Monday evening.

Caution “absolutely vital”

Mr Johnson will host a press conference on Monday afternoon, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid will announce the plans in Parliament.

Downing Street said the unlocking would be based on four tests – the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence that the vaccine is causing a reduction in hospitalisations and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospital admissions, and that no new variants of concern throw progress off track.

Boris Johnson has promised an end to compulsory face coverings.

Mr Johnson said: “We are tantalisingly close to the final milestone in our road map out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning.

“While the phenomenal vaccine rollout has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet.

“Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear. Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS.”

Waive patents

The UK and Germany are some of the only countries not to waive patent restrictions, including the USA and India.

Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrew’s and member of the SAGE subcommittee on behavioural science, said:
“We have a remarkably successful vaccine programme in the UK. But removing all coronavirus restrictions while allowing the virus to spread and mutate worldwide is like leaving an open goal in the ninetieth minute of the game.

“If infection continues to rage internationally, there is a serious danger of new and more dangerous variants continuing to arise, spreading across borders and forcing us back into restrictions – thus undermining the Prime Minister’s ability to deliver on his pledge to make their removal ‘irreversible.

Professor Stephen Reicher.

“In the short term, donating vaccines will certainly make some difference, although what is on offer is less than 10% of what is needed to make the world safe. So, in the longer term the key priority is not to redistribute what is already being produced. It is to make use of the unused capacity that already exists around the world and so to increase production to a level where there is enough vaccine for everybody.

“That requires waiving patents – a policy supported amongst others by the Pope, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and also our most important ally, the United States. But the British Government continues to be one of the few blocking it.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

“We need urgent action to allow poorer countries to produce their own safe, effective vaccines for their populations by waiving patents.

“That would be a truly remarkable gift to the world. It would help increase our standing in the world at a time when we so badly need trading partners. And ultimately it is the only means of consigning Covid to history and so ending the threat of further lockdowns for good.”