Waiving Patents on Vaccine

Pandemic May 08, 2021

In October 2020, India and South Africa mutually moved a motion at the WTO asking its council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to provide a waiver on intellectual property protection (IPP) for pharmaceutical patents in the ongoing covid pandemic. Around a hundred developing nations supported the joint move. However, major developed countries, mostly home to huge pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, opposed the move.

Intellectual Property rights (IPR) is the legal protection of any creation by a mind, like designs, symbols, literary and artistic works, inventions, etc. These include patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Patenting vaccines gives the owners the sole rights to manufacture the vaccines.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, co-recipient of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences has written an opinion for The Washington Post where he says that if this waiver is not inflicted, poor nations would have to wait until 2024 (estimated) to get vaccines. These can make the pandemic last much longer and several lockdowns will have to be imposed. These opposing countries are giving the reason for not agreeing to the waiver because they feel the developing nations cannot produce COVID-19 vaccines with high-end technology and skills. However, these claims are downright false. India, a developing nation is the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world. Stiglitz argues that opposing this move is “morally incorrect”.  

The poorer nations have conditions where not even a single dose of vaccine has registered yet. And there are wealthy nations where at least 40% of the population is fully vaccinated (both doses registered). Middle- and low-income countries constitute around 80% of the population. Hence vaccination here is crucial because they have below-par healthcare facilities and an enormous population. The Standard of living is low, and political and social crises keep rising, such as the Ethiopia crisis.

The vaccine manufacturers had warned the US that waiving patents would lead to an information leak to China and Russia. As history records, the US has had a cold war with Russia and now a “new cold war” is suspected between China and the US. However, President Joe Biden recently announced that the US supports the TRIPS vaccine waiver. This move will bring success to the vaccination drive. Countries like the EU, UK, Australia are still against this wavier. Hence alternatives for equal distribution of vaccines globally must be found out. For this, the vaccine makers have offered technology transfers and licences.

The article has been written by Ritu Katkar for The Paradigm

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