Rich countries are refusing to waive IP rights on vaccines

Medical workers chat among themselves at a quarantine center for patients infected with Covid-19 coronavirus in a banquet room that was being converted into an isolation center on April 15, 2021 in New Delhi, India, to deal with the rising cases of infection.

Anindito Mukherjee | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON – The US, Canada and the UK are among high-income countries actively blocking a patent exemption proposal designed to boost production of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.

The reason is that coronavirus cases worldwide are reaching their highest level to date and the World Health Organization has repeatedly admonished a “shocking imbalance” in vaccine distribution amid the pandemic.

World Trade Organization members will virtually meet in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday for informal talks on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments.

The landmark proposal, jointly tabled by India and South Africa in October, was supported by more than 100 mainly developing countries. The aim is to facilitate the production of treatments on site and to promote the global vaccination campaign.

Six months later, the proposal continues to be blocked by a small number of governments – including the US, EU, UK, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

“In this Covid-19 pandemic, we are once again faced with scarcity problems that can be resolved by diversifying production and delivery capacities and ensuring that we temporarily dispense with relevant intellectual property,” said Dr. Maria Guevara, international medical secretary at Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It’s about saving lives in the end, not protecting systems.”

The urgency and importance of surrendering certain intellectual property rights in the context of the pandemic has been underlined by WHO, health experts, civil society groups, trade unions, former world leaders, international medical charities, Nobel Prize winners and human rights organizations.

Why does it matter?

The exemption, if passed by the General Council, the WTO’s top decision-making body, could help countries around the world overcome legal obstacles preventing them from making their own Covid vaccines and treatments.

Proponents of the proposal have admitted that the waiver is not a “silver bullet” but argue that removing barriers to vaccine development, manufacturing and approval is critical in the fight against coronavirus prevention, treatment and containment.

Conversely, professional associations of the pharmaceutical industry are against the waiver.

In a statement released late last year, Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, argued that watering down the national and international framework for intellectual property would be “dangerous and counterproductive”.

Instead, he argued that the focus should be on science and innovation rather than “undoing the very system that supports it”.

To date, an average of one in four people in high-income countries has received a Covid vaccine, compared to one in over 500 for people in low-income countries.

At current rates, most of the adult populations in advanced economies are expected to be vaccinated against the virus by mid-next year, while the schedule for poorer economies is expected to extend to 2024 – if at all.

“A scandal that affects us all”

The world leaders who oppose politics are coming under increasing pressure to change course.

In a possible tone shift, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said last week that “significant inequalities in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are totally unacceptable”.

Tai added that mistakes that caused “unnecessary death and suffering” during the HIV / AIDS epidemic should not be repeated. However, the US has yet to clarify whether it has changed its position on the waiver.

The European Commission has previously stated that abandoning patents will not solve the problems of production capacity, instead claiming that policy makers need to find measures “to keep the incentives to innovate”.

A spokesperson was not immediately available when he was contacted by CNBC on Thursday.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch, said Thursday via Twitter that high-income countries “are reducing vaccine production worldwide by blocking the TRIPS waiver – a proposal by the WTO to temporarily impose some intellectual property rules on medical devices.” renounce – is a scandal that affects us all. “

His comments come shortly after The People’s Vaccine Alliance found that two-thirds of epidemiologists polled at some of the world’s leading academic institutions warned that Covid mutations could render current vaccines ineffective in a year or less. The poll, published on March 30, interviewed 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries.

“It’s annoying to hear Pharma (companies) groan that a temporary waiver would prevent them from making future vaccines. Aside from being blackmailed, it’s ahistorical. What made them do it last time was ours Taxes. Our governments have put billions into developing vaccines, “Stroehlein said.

“So you could of course create incentives again in the future.”

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