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News Article

Patent Waiver Discarded as Vaccine Access Solution

By Miriam Bello | Thu, 06/10/2021 - 16:06

Boosting access to the COVID-19 vaccine has a priority for policy makers and pharmaceutical companies. Several measures to increase access have been discussed, including the once popular notion of waiving patent rights of the COVID-19 vaccines. However, this last proposal seems to have been discarded but others remain on the table.

National and international agencies are looking for the quickest, most effective solution that will allow them to inoculate at least 80 percent of the global population by the end of this year. To so do, vaccination campaigns around the world should accelerate but they have been unable to do so due to their oftentimes limited access to vaccines.

A lot has been said on how to achieve global inoculation, but one of the most prominent initiatives was patent waiving, proposed by the WTO and later even supported by the US and other countries in the EU. The proposal has been, however, dismissed quickly. And even the US White House has reversed its original opinion on patent waiving, says Reuters.

Critics of the proposal point out that patents were never the problem. “Patents are not responsible for the crisis or issues related to the mismanagement of the health system,” commented Alejandro Luna, Partner at OLIVARES. “It is easy to say that patents are barriers but this is incorrect. The technology developed to create COVID-19 vaccines is very complex and is recognized through legal protection. Patent protection should not be used as the argument to blame lack of access, neither for COVID-19 vaccines nor for any other medical development.”

The primary cause of the distribution delay is the unprecedented demand, added Luna. A strong and continuous supply chain and expert workforce are necessary across the etire supply chain, he added. Moreover, the complexity of the vaccines make them almost impossible to produce outside of highly specialized factories. “Production processes for these vaccines must be performed in specialized infrastructure with controlled environments for their manufacture, storage and distribution,” said Luna. His comments echo those of France’s President Emmanuel Macron and those from an official statement from Germany’s government.

After the widespread turnabout, WTO recently announced that its members will start formal negotiations to boost COVID-19 vaccine supply to developing countries with rival proposals, one with and one without a waiver of intellectual property rights. In response, European Council President Charles Michel pronounced: “The patent waiver might sound good, but it's no silver bullet. The TRIPS agreement already offers flexibility and we want to focus on concrete proposals, such as promoting voluntary licenses and knowledge transfers and patent-pooling on mutually agreed terms,” said Michel.

The TRIPS agreement is, to date, the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property, according to WTO. It covers several areas of intellectual property, including copyright, trademarks, service marks, geographical indications including appellations of origin, industrial designs, patents, layout-designs of integrated circuits, trade secrets and test data.

This week, active effort to spur vaccine distribution has arisen, particularly from the US. Just today, US President Joe Biden announced the donation of 500 million vaccines to 92 countries. The US government will buy doses from Pfizer for a total of about US$3.5 billion. His administration had previously committed millions of doses to Latin America, including 1 million doses of J&J vaccine to Mexico. Another effort was during the G7 summit, where the EU and the US are set to agree to reduce export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines and drugs, says a draft joint text, arguing that voluntary sharing of technology is the key to boosting output.

Photo by:   Braňo on Unsplash
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst