The pandemic has revealed the undue influence that large multinational pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists have over our governments and our lives – whether it’s in their efforts to thwart a much-needed universal pharmacare program or the obstacles they’ve posed to an equitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Here is what we urge you to ask your local candidates about Big Pharma.
1) What will you do in the face of Big Pharma’s bullying tactics?
Large multinational pharmaceutical corporations have used their outsized power to stall or undermine pharmacare at every turn.
Since the launch of the Liberal government’s Advisory Council for the Implementation of National Pharmacare in February 2018, Big Pharma and insurance companies have significantly ramped up their efforts. They have engaged in relentless lobbying, enlisted industry-linked think tanks to spread their propaganda, and poured millions of dollars into cash-strapped patient advocacy groups to sway their positions.
A search of the lobby registry reveals that federal officials had at least 555 contacts from Big Pharma, private insurers, and pharma-funded patient advocacy groups in the year 2020 alone. The fight for universal pharmacare won’t succeed without a government willing to stand up to the bullying tactics of Big Pharma.
2) What will you do to help get pharmacare across the finish line?
Canada is the only country in the world to have a universal health care system that doesn’t include prescription medication. We pay some of the highest drug prices in the world. Last year, one out of every four households said they couldn’t afford to fill necessary prescriptions. More than 7 million people have either inadequate drug coverage or none at all. Record high job losses during the pandemic have only exacerbated this situation.
It’s no wonder that universal pharmacare is so overwhelmingly popular: nearly 9 out of 10 Canadians support the idea. The federal Liberals have for years promised a national program but failed to deliver. Most recently, they announced a partnership with PEI, which they say is “the first agreement to accelerate national universal pharmacare.” But while that deal will enhance the province’s drug plan for those already covered, it is a far cry from universal pharmacare.
It’s time to stop stalling and give all Canadians access to the medicines we so urgently need.
3) Will you commit to legislation that lowers the cost of patented drugs?
Lower drug costs ensure that more Canadians have access to the medicines they need. They are also a necessary first step towards the realization of a publicly-paid pharmacare program.
The federal government proposed new guidelines in 2019 to lower the cost of patented drugs. But Big Pharma has since worked relentlessly to stall their implementation. They have flooded the parliamentary committee studying these changes with objections, even issuing veiled threats about the availability of COVID-19 vaccines at the height of the pandemic.
The pharma lobby’s aggressive push appears to have had the desired effect: the federal government recently delayed the implementation of these drug-pricing changes – for the third time. Politicians need to put the interests of people first and refuse to let corporate lobbyists call the shots!
4) Will you support an intellectual property waiver to ensure countries that don’t currently have the vaccine can manufacture and distribute it on their own?
Big pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the vaccine fully own the intellectual property (IP) rights to those products. They control the information at every step of the way, starting from how to build the factories necessary for manufacturing the vaccine all the way through to making the vaccine itself.
COVID-19 has shown us how interdependent we are. If one community or country isn’t vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread and become more dangerous through mutations, like we’re experiencing now with the Delta variant.
All countries need access to vaccines, not only through charitable donations of excess vaccines from wealthy countries to others, but through a systemic change to the way IP is handled. This is an essential part of an equitable worldwide recovery. Canada must stand up to Big Pharma and support the call for a people’s vaccine at the World Trade Organization.