Thank you very much for the invitation to appear today. I hope I can be of some help to the committee's study on this very important topic.
I will provide some background first. I'm a university employee and researcher, but I'm speaking in a personal capacity today. I have a conflict of interest to declare in that I may receive income as an inventor of a patent application relating to the manufacture of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
My role in the Oxford COVID vaccine program has primarily been to develop the manufacturing process and lead the initial technology transfer, both to sites within the U.K. and to overseas sites, including the Serum Institute of India. I have subsequently worked closely with AZ, but I can't speak for AZ at all. I understand that your remit includes Canada's domestic vaccine supply, but I've had no involvement with AZ's arrangements for supply to Canada.
Equity of access to our vaccine has been a really key driver for me and our team from the beginning. We transferred manufacturing to low-income countries at the same time as setting it up in the U.K. We prioritized willingness to pursue equitable access in our choice of pharma partners and pushed very hard for terms to promote equitable access when we entered the partnership with AZ. The outcome really has been quite radical on that, in terms of both pricing and distribution.
Clearly, though, the world is now in exactly the situation we were worried about when we were taking those decisions. Personally, it's important to be clear. It's outrageous that some countries are vaccinating 18-year-olds while the global rates of COVID-19 deaths are pretty much as high as they have been, and health workers and 70-year-olds are unprotected and dying in many parts of the world.
This is damaging for all of us, not least because of the ongoing economic disruption. The IMF has published an excellent study showing massive economic benefits to high-income countries of fast and equitable global vaccination.
What can be done now? In particular, is a TRIPS waiver the right thing to focus on?
It's critical to understand how different the situation is now from the problem of HIV drug access 20 years ago in low-income countries, for which patent waivers were very effective. That was a problem of price. There was potential manufacturing capacity sitting idle, and the patent was the main block. Now, we're in a much more complicated situation. The manufacturing capacity itself needs to be expanded as quickly as possible, and that requires removal of multiple non-patent constraints, such as raw material supplies, skills and non-patent know-how.
Removing patents implies new entrants with less experience competing with the innovating companies for those resources and duplicating efforts on developing know-how. That would be really quite inefficient. Having governments work in a critical but constructive partnership with innovators to expand that effort and improve equity of supply is likely to be a much better solution. It's clear that the status quo isn't working. Some of those innovating companies are not currently feeling that it's in their interests to prioritize low-income country supply. We need to examine and address the reasons for that, and countries like Canada can play a really positive role in that.
First, we need to be clear that the current situation on the distribution of vaccines that exist is intolerable. We need moral pressure on Pfizer, Moderna and governments that are vaccinating young adults to donate a proportion of their supply immediately.
Second, we need to see whether we can make the supply we have cover more people. It may well be that half doses of the existing vaccines are adequate, which would double supply at a stroke. That could be established very rapidly if clinical trials of low doses were set up urgently, but I don't see the companies rushing to do that without governmental intervention.
Third, we need to expand the supply, and with a G7 meeting coming up, we need an international, G7-led version of the operation warp speed effort. Rather than focusing on initial vaccine development for one country, this time it would be focused on manufacturing capacity expansion for the world.
That needs governments to really constructively engage, not just donate money. That effort can and should echo the features that made Operation Warp Speed and the U.K. vaccines task force effective. That means bringing together technical expertise, getting into the detail, understanding the different bottlenecks facing each manufacturer, and creating solutions.
It needs to use the clout of government to compel, but deploy it smartly, and it needs to act not just as a passive or even a pushy customer, but like a venture capital investor, as a partner and an enabler for industry.
We're dealing here with transnational supply chains, so this has to be an international solution to an international problem. However, increasing output should help everyone too. It's a huge win-win. I hope that you and Canada consider picking up on the positive motivation behind the patent waiver idea and driving things forward in a really effective, equitable direction.