Amidst rising Covid-19 cases and a growing dearth of vaccines, discussions around removing intellectual property rights over vaccine have started again. With US making an official statement that it will waive off the patents for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, many nations have shown support to the matter raised prominently last year by India and South Africa. There also have been arguments for and against patent waiver. Let’s understand what is happening.
Crux of the Matter
In May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to share knowledge for rapidly scaling up the vaccine production proposed a Covid–Technology Access Pool. However, the initiative largely failed as vaccine companies refused to participate.
In October 2020, India along with South Africa, at World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) council meet, proposed to temporarily suspend the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) rights pertaining to the Covid-19 vaccine and drugs.
Proponents To Relinquish IP Rights
The India-South Africa proposal was roughly backed by over 100 nations.
- The patent holders have the exclusive right to manufacture, sell, and use the vaccine/drug for the entire term of 20 years from the date of its filing.
- IP rights could restrict the supply of vaccines and drugs. Thus, only by suspending the TRIPS agreement a ‘fair, equitable and affordable access’ to Covid-19 products can be ensured.
At present, the annual global vaccine production capacity is 3.5 billion doses. While to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population,11 billion doses are required. A significant increase in production is the need of hour to control Covid 19.
As Reported In WSJ:
Pharmaceutical firms in developing nations like Bangladesh, India, South Africa, and Senegal say that they have the capacity to produce vaccines within a few months if Western manufacturers license or share their technology.
Opposition To Waiver
- Vaccine makers which are already ramping up production believe that squashing IP will not work to overcome supply shortage in the short term.
- Reason? Contract producers are not well versed with the new technology.
- Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech said that it would take a year to master the RNA technology and ensure quality control, with others saying that it would take away resources from existing vaccine production.
What About Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin?
- Covaxin is indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology.
- Covaxin is an Indian Intellectual Property and hence the scope of TRIPs is not applicable if India want to license it to other Indian firms.
- So far, Indian government has granted the license to Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corp.
- However, the firm will take at least a year to get the first Covaxin jab out of its factory owing to the mandatory ‘Biosafety level-3’ production facility required.
On 6th May, 2021 the US finally agreed to temporarily suspend the IP rights. However, the statement released said that US will participate in ‘text based negotiations’ and ‘the entire process might take time’. Experts believe that the process will go on for so long that the emergency is over and there’s no longer a need to share IP.
- Jonas Salk was the creator of one of the world’s first successful Polio Vaccines. In order to increase distribution globally, he did not patent or make a profit out of the vaccine.
- Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine, the first ever vaccine. He is often regarded as the Father of Immunology.
- The term vaccine and vaccination from the words ‘Variolae vaccinae’. It mean ‘smallpox of the cow’.