WTO nod to remove intellectual property rights on the use of COVID vaccines
- At the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, a consensus is in sight on a pending proposal championed by India and South Africa in 2020 that sought to remove intellectual property rights restrictions on the use of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and diagnostic devices.
What are the terms of the proposal?
- WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council, India and South Africa proposed that the WTO do away with certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the duration of the pandemic to facilitate access to technologies necessary for the production of vaccines and medicines.
- waiver would aid scaling up of local production, critical to ensure wider access to affordable and effective vaccines.
What is the latest development?
- A consensus of all members is necessary for a proposal to be approved. The draft says all patent rights that protect the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines will be waived for three-five years.
- All member countries can authorize the manufacture as well as export of vaccines produced in these conditions.
Is this a breakthrough?
- It is possible that vaccines developed using the early strains of the virus may become ineffective over time and newer ones, potentially employing newer approaches, may be necessary in the months and years ahead.
- Pharmaceutical patents have historically been impediments to the manufacture of affordable, high-quality drugs, the global nature of the pandemic has seen that even though richer nations hoarded vaccines, prioritizing multiple inoculations for their citizens, over even a single shot for African countries, intellectual property rights on its own didn’t prove to be a hurdle.
Hurdles in the draft agreement
- The current waiver doesn’t automatically compel patent rights holders to share this information with a potential manufacturer for free.
- The waiver is limited to vaccines. The original proposal sought a waiver on therapeutics and diagnostics and the agreement only says that a “discussion” on this can be held after six months.
- Access to new drugs and diagnostic technologies are necessary to keep people safe everywhere.
What do India’s pharmaceutical companies say?
- No one has commented on the draft, prominent drug and vaccine companies in India haven’t been very vocal on the need for a waiver
- Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), comprising Indian subsidiaries of western pharmaceutical companies, has been critical.
- Waiving of intellectual property rights (IPR)will neither lead to increased production of vaccines nor practical solutions to fight the virus, as IP “is not the barrier” to vaccines.
- The Indian Drug Manufacturers Association, has supported it, they are more interested in “voluntary licenses” by the patent holders to Indian companies with sufficient expertise in this field, and transferring technology to Indian companies against “reasonable” royalties.