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Activists urge 'Big Pharma' to be transparent on COVID-19 vaccine costs

GENEVA (Reuters) - Activists called on pharmaceutical companies on Thursday to be transparent about the costs and terms of providing COVID-19 vaccines, saying they must be available and affordable for all.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

French drugmaker Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline said on Wednesday they would supply 200 million doses of their COVID-19 candidate vaccine to the global COVAX vaccine facility backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI vaccine alliance.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) demanded the two companies provide details around price, supply and distribution of any vaccine proven safe and effective.

“Pharmaceutical corporations Sanofi and GSK must sell their vaccines at-cost and open their books to show the public exactly how much it costs to make the vaccine,” said Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy adviser at MSF’s Access Campaign.

“There is no room for secrets during a pandemic and past experience tells us that we can’t take pharma at their word without data to back up their claims,” she said in a statement.

Sanofi and GSK could not immediately be reached for comment.

No company has shared information on research and development, clinical trials or manufacturing costs of potential COVID-19 vaccines, MSF said, adding this was vital for the public to assess prices set.

More than half of the expected volume of doses of leading candidate vaccines has been bought up by 13% of the world, mainly high-income countries, the medical charity said.

Human Rights Watch, in a separate report, said governments funding vaccines with public money should be transparent about terms and conditions attached.

The New York-based group urged states to back a proposal by India and South Africa to wave some aspects of intellectual property (IP) rules on patents to enable large-scale manufacturing and affordability.

A temporary IP waiver was debated this month in the World Trade Organization (WTO), but was opposed by the United States, European Union, Britain, Switzerland and others.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic our priority has been to ensure that all people enjoy the fruits of science ... In these difficult times the best health technologies and discoveries cannot be reserved only for a few, they must be available to all,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a UNESCO event on “Open Science” on Tuesday.

“Sharing data and information that is often kept secret or protected by intellectual property could significantly advance the speed at which technologies are developed,” Tedros added.

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