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World pushes for waiver on vaccines patent, property rights

By A.P | May 7th 2021
A nurse vaccinates a person with the Astra-Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Activists cheered, Big Pharma complained and government leaders assessed the next steps yesterday after the Biden administration’s blockbuster move to support an easing of patent and other protections on Covid-19 vaccines that many hope will help poorer countries get more doses and speed the end of the pandemic.

The move to support waiving intellectual property protections on vaccines under World Trade Organisation rules marked a dramatic shift for the United States, which had previously lined up with many other developed nations opposed to the idea floated by India and South Africa.

Attention is set to turn to those richer nations, notably in the European Union, to see whether they will come on board. A key hurdle: Any decision at the WTO, a Geneva-based trade body, has to be by consensus — meaning that any single country could hold up any waiver.

The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the 27-nation bloc was ready to talk about the US proposal — but cagily remained noncommittal for now.

“We are ready to discuss how the US proposal for waiver on intellectual property protection for Covid vaccines could help” end the crisis, she said in a video address.

“In the short run, however, we call upon all vaccine producing countries to allow exports and to avoid measures that disrupt supply chains.”

That echoed the position of the global pharmaceutical industry, which insists a faster solution would be for rich countries that have vaccine stockpiles to start sharing them with poorer ones.

The industry insists that production of coronavirus vaccines is complicated and can’t be ramped up by easing intellectual property protections. Instead, it insists that reducing bottlenecks in supply chains and a scarcity of ingredients that go into vaccines are the more pressing issues for now.

“A waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem,” said the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.

“Waiving patents of Covid-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis.”

The industry also says an IP waiver will do more harm than good in the long run by reducing the incentives that push innovators to make tremendous leaps, as they did with the vaccines that have been churned out in a blistering, unprecedented speed to help fight Covid-19.


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