Health experts call for a complete COVID-19 IP waiver.

Wednesday March 23, 2022 at 2:02 pm

Several leading health experts have called on India and South Africa to reject the new draft of the negotiated consensus document concerning the Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver between the US, the European Union, India, and South Africa.

The joint letter published by the People’s Vaccine Alliance in India urged the government of India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry to push towards waiving all forms of intellectual property on the Covid-19 vaccine in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ’s General Council meeting. This call has been supported by representatives of various health networks in six states.

While the health experts have welcomed the efforts by the various respective national governments and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, they pointed out several flaws in the newly proposed provisions. These provisions have been accessed and analyzed in detail by media and civil society groups. The freshly proposed agreement only seems to reiterate existing flexibilities and, if anything, narrows the contract’s scope from a full Intellectual Property waiver on all medical technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic to what is essentially only access to vaccines.

A member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance in India, Anjela Taneja, asserted, “Over 100 countries worldwide have been looking to India’s leadership in the WTO to protect their aspirations to a full waiver on all IP on medical technologies for the duration of the pandemic. Instead, this deal only applies to patents, not copyrights, trademarks, and diagnostics. Access to trade secrets is critical for the rapid production of vaccines at an affordable price. That is India’s moment to continue to show the leadership it has shown until now and deliver a true peoples’ vaccine for the world.”

The deal also postpones intellectual property decisions for treatments and diagnostics, which is critically essential for saving lives. Intellectual property barriers are probably far higher for treatment, with merely 427 of the total 5293 Covid-19 related patent filings being for vaccines. Thus nearly 92 percent were not for vaccines and won’t be covered by the current deal. Removing intellectual property-related barriers for all COVID-19 related treatments, tests, and other medical technologies, including genomic surveillance, will do more to combat the pandemic.

The vaccine waiver under the agreement also further limits “eligible members” to developing countries that had exported less than 10 percent of world exports of total Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021. That means several countries with significantly better manufacturing capacity for Covid-19 vaccines will not be permitted to use the waiver. Limiting the scope of the waiver in these ways even as the pandemic is in its third year is ill-conceived.

The government of India must bring attention to four key aspects of this waiver to provide vaccines for the entire world. These are:

  1. The framework of this agreement should also include therapeutics and diagnostics.
  2. It should also ensure all forms of COVID-19 intellectual property are waived.
  3. There should not be any geopolitical barriers to the intellectual property waiver whatsoever.
  4. The procedure for authorization must be simplified and should not require the listing of patents or notification to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) council.

Since October 2020, governments of these two countries, India and South Africa, have led the efforts for getting Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver at World Trade Organisation (WTO). These countries had sought temporary relaxations for various forms of intellectual properties, patents, and other similar provisions laid out under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ramp up manufacturing. These moves received support from over 100 primarily low- and middle-income nations. The move was opposed by the pharmaceutical industry and some high-income countries (HICs).