Update on Countries Support to Covid-19 Vaccine Equity by Backing Intellectual Property (IP) Patent Waiver
By: Dwi Prasetyaning Rahmawati (9/6/21)
During this unprecedented time, where the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is critical. Nevertheless, the need for pharmaceutical companies to claim patents over the vaccine produced is inevitable, but some authorities decided to waive the patent of these vaccines in the hope to allow more manufactures to produce the life-saving vaccines and support the equality of distribution especially for developing countries.
To support the equal distribution worldwide, People’s Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of organizations and activists including UNAIDS, Amnesty International, and Public Citizen, as well as COVAX facility included Gavi, WHO, and CEPI held a campaign called “People’s Vaccine Campaign”. The campaign argues that “pharmaceutical corporations must allow the covid-19 vaccines to be produced as widely as possible by sharing their knowledge free from patents”.
Defined by WHO (World Health Organisation), Patent is a title granted by public authorities that confess a temporary monopoly for the patent holder, and grant the holder control over the production, supply, distribution, and price of a drug. This exclusivity somehow triggers a worry that it will hinder the production and manufacturing process of vaccines, especially for Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMIIC).
Several countries have shown some supports to waive Covid-19 vaccines, like United States (after changed its former opposition in April and turned out to support the waiver in May), Europe, and over 120 other countries. This waiver proposal has initiated by India and South Africa back in October 2020, aimed for the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council to waive such protections of the agreement for some patents and technology in response to Covid-19.
However, some countries like Germany and Switzerland voice disagreement with the waiver, saying that Intellectual Property (IP) is a source of innovation and must remain so. They also argue that this waiver will increase the equality gaps in poorer countries.
Apart from the Covid-19 vaccine waiver, other measures should also be implemented. An IP waiver certainly would help other producers to step in and make raw materials for export for all the current vaccines, industrial parts, and components. It would also simplify agreements for the eventual production of more doses. But an IP waiver alone will not solve the Covid-19 vaccine access challenge. Other steps will need to be taken to ensure vaccine equity, which is to transfer technical knowledge from vaccine makers to other countries that are going to self-manufacture it, and also vast subsidization of vaccine manufacturing in LMICs (Gonsalves and Yamey, 2021).
Therefore, government support in the vaccine waiver is indeed very crucial to ensure that every layer of the society is protected, because “no one safe until everyone is safe”.
Gonsalves, Gregg; Yamey, Gavin. Published May 2021. The covid-19 vaccine patent waiver: a crucial step towards a “people’s vaccine”. British Medical Journal, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n1249