Sudden US backing for a global waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines offers hope to poor nations struggling for doses – but, perhaps unsurprisingly, the big pharma industry thinks the notion misguided.
Agrence France-Presse have produced this summing up of the arguments. Some countries see the temporary intellectual property (IP) rights waiver as a shortcut to ending the coronavirus pandemic. But the pharmaceutical industry claims an IP waiver will not help produce a single dose more this year.
The original plan proposed a temporary exemption from certain IP obligations so that any country can produce vaccines without worrying about patents.
The waiver would also cover “industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information”, and would last “until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity”.
More than 80 countries support the proposal, including Argentina, Bangladesh, the DR Congo, Kenya, Nigeria and Venezuela. Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco and Pakistan are among a host of countries that have indicated they have production capacity available if the patents are waived.
A number of NGOs including the medical charity Doctors Without Borders back the waiver, saying it would facilitate timely access to affordable medical products for all countries in need.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations is, naturally, strongly against the proposal. “A waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem,” the IFPMA big pharma lobby group said, branding the US decision to support the plan “disappointing”.
“Waiving patents of Covid-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions.”
The IFPMA claim the real challenge in scaling up production is eliminating trade barriers, and addressing the supply chain bottlenecks and scarcity of raw materials – and argues introducing new manufacturers will not help. Larger firms also suggest that vaccine confidence could be undermined by a free-for-all on production.
There will now undoubtedly be months of negotiations – and acres of op-eds and pressure from both sides – before a consensus can be found at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
Earlier today European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that the trading bloc was ready to discuss the proposal.
The idea has the backing of World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who hailed the US support as a “monumental moment” in the pandemic fight.
“Ultimately, the solution to the vaccine crisis is for the countries and companies that control the global supply to share… technology, know-how and to waive intellectual property rights,” he said yesterday.
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