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Vaccine manufacture must provide good jobs and medicine security

20 August, 2020IndustriALL Global Union’s UK affiliate, Unite, is fighting to ensure that the manufacture of the Covid-19 vaccine creates sustainable, quality jobs and an adequate supply of the vaccine for all.

A report by Unite expresses concern that the UK currently does not have the manufacturing capacity to meet demand for the Covid-19 vaccine when it is produced. This means that the UK will compete with other countries for existing capacity, raising fears for the fair and universal distribution of the vaccine. The global market is dominated by the US, and competition for supplies is likely to result in people in rich countries being treated first.

The UK has relied on outsourcing the production of medicines to countries where companies are able to take advantage of lower wages to exploit workers. Unite believes that this is dangerous during a pandemic, as countries will seek to protect their own citizens and may restrict the export of medicines and medical supplies. The UK should ensure a secure domestic supply chain of medicines, from discovery to production, distribution and administration.

Unite argues that all countries should have medicine security – the ability to sustainably meet the needs of the population for medication. While the UK has substantial research and development capacity, and two major pharmaceutical companies – GSK and AstraZeneca – with headquarters in the country, the UK does not have the manufacturing capacity to meet demand.

Vaccine production is generally a marginal segment of global health expenditure, typically amounting to less than 0.5 per cent. The UK still lags behind its peers in the developing world. Although the UK government has invested in the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, the funds provided are not adequate to build a manufacturing site.

The report argues that the UK government should invest in capacity to achieve a pharmaceutical manufacturing sector that can deliver enough doses of a vaccine. In addition to creating medicine security, this would create high quality, sustainable jobs.

IndustriALL sector director Tom Grinter said:

“IndustriALL believes that access to vital medicine is a universal human right. Everyone should have access to a vaccine. This work by Unite helps to ensure that.

“We support their demand for sustainable industrial policy in the sector, with good quality jobs, and union rights.”

IndustriALL consistently calls for sustainable industrial policy, which includes state support for key sectors. IndustriALL believes that access to medicine is human right that must be protected from profiteers - particularly in a pandemic, when large amounts of public money are being invested in vaccine development.

Tony Devlin, the Unite national officer for the sector, said

“…the UK government must urgently embark on a journey to ensure medicine security in the UK by creating an industrial and economic environment that delivers a strong secure UK pharmaceutical manufacturing sector creating skilled well-paid jobs that not only supports our citizens and society but UK workers and the UK economy.”