[Answered] What do you understand by Compulsory Licensing under the TRIPS regime? Do you think that a TRIPS waiver on IP Rights would be able to ensure vaccine equity and plug the access gap for COVID-19 vaccines?

Introduction: Explain Compulsory licensing w.r.t. TRIPS agreement. 
Body:. Write how will compulsory licensing will help in achieving vaccine equity. Also provide the concerns related with compulsory licensing. Suggest some measures to mitigate those concerns.
Conclusion: Conclude explaining the need of vaccine equity. 

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was negotiated in 1995 at the WTO, to guarantee minimum standards of IP protection and providing legal consistency that enables innovators to monetize their intellectual property in multiple countries.  

Under the TRIPS agreement, the Governments can compel companies to license their patents to other manufacturers, (even if companied think the offered price is not acceptable) in case of a public health emergency.

There is widespread vaccine inequity in case of COVID-19 vaccines: 

  • As per the data from WHO by 25th December 2021, Just 3% of the almost 8 billion doses given globally had been administered in Africa and only around 8% of Africans were fully vaccinated, compared with more than 60% in many high-income countries. 
  • Big Pharmaceutical companies that have the patent for vaccines, have been supplying vaccines to developed nations and leaving the populations of poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America majorly unprotected. 
  • In this context the waiver will allow generic manufacturers to override IPRs on vaccines and make these available sufficiently across geographic locations at a much cheaper cost. 

However, there are some concerns related with Compulsory Licensing 

  • Pharmaceutical companies invest a large amount of money in developing Vaccines and compelling them to license their vaccines at lower prices would hamper innovation in future. 
  • The vaccines are difficult to replicate even with the patents shared, the know-how associated with manufacturing may be the biggest challenge in facilitating mass manufacture of vaccines. 

India and South Africa first proposed the waiver for COVID-19 vaccine in October 2020. However, this issue has been pending in WTO since then, as there is lack of agreement among members. 

It is important that other measure can be taken to ensure vaccine equity and plug the access gap for COVID-19 vaccines. 

  • Voluntary licensing: Nudging pharmaceutical companies to go for voluntary licensing would create a win-win situation for everyone. 
  • COVAX programme: COVAX is currently underfunded, countries could mobilize funds for the programme. It can help achieve vaccine equity by supplying vaccine to largely unvaccinated areas. 
  • Patent pooling: A supranational patent pooling would alleviate the fears of companies of losing to each other. Thereby create a conducive environment for sharing of patents.

Achieving vaccine equity is paramount because no one is safe from Covid-19 until everybody is safe. Hence it is imperative to ensure vaccine equity and provide 100% coverage of COVID-19 vaccine.

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