Critical Analysis of U.S Support to temporary Patent Waiver for Covid Vaccines

Synopsis: Arguments, provided by MNC’s against Patent waiver on Covid technologies, are baseless. WTO should make efforts to bring consensus among nations for a temporary waiver.

  • Last year, India and South Africa proposed in WTO for a waiver on patent protection. It was for technologies needed to combat COVID-19.
  • While many low- and middle-income countries supported it, resistance came from the high-income countries (U.S., U.K, E U etc.,) and the Pharmaceuticals industry.
  • Currently, the United States president, Joe Biden, has decided to support the India-South Africa proposal.
  • However, the process may get delayed, despite the U.S. intervention. Because, the WTO works on a consensus-based approach. i.e., The World Trade Organization resolves debates by consensus and not by voting.
Why the reasons, given for not accepting the Patent waiver proposal, are baseless?

Many arguments against providing a Patent waiver were put forward. However, all such reasons are found to be baseless.

  • First, critics argue that, the capacity for producing vaccines of assured quality and safety is limited to some laboratories. Further, it may be hazardous to permit manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to work with technologies that they cannot handle.
    • This argument is not valid, for many years multinational firms have subcontracted their patented pharmaceutical products to industries with low production costs in developing countries.
  • Second, Critics argue that there is no evidence that extra capacity exists for producing vaccines outside of firms undertaking them now.
    • But even this argument is not valid. For example,  The World Health Organization’s mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub has already drawn  interest from over 50 firms to produce the approved vaccines.
  • Third, critics argue that the time taken for their utilization by new firms will be too long to help combat the present pandemic.
    • Even this argument is baseless as nobody knows when the Pandemic will come to end. Further, combined with low vaccination rates and emerging Mutant variation in Covid virus makes it much more difficult to predict the end of the Pandemic.
  • Fourth, multinational pharmaceutical firms argue that Patent waiver will allow China to steal their technologies, now and in the future.
    • However, MNC’s forget to remember that the original genomic sequence openly shared by China, gave these firms a head starts in developing vaccines.
  • Fifth, the most common argument by all MNC’s is that innovation and investment by industry will have to be financially rewarded to incentivise them to develop new products.
    • But, even through compulsory licensing industry will be financially rewarded. Because royalties are paid to the original innovators and patent holders even if compulsory issues are issued bypassing patent restrictions.
    • Further, much of the foundational science that built the path for vaccine production came from public-funded universities and research institutes.
What are the other alternatives proposed for Patent waiver?
  • One, giving license to manufacturers in developing countries, while retaining patent rights. However, it will not guarantee equity in access to the products at affordable prices.
  • Two, supplying vaccines to developing countries through the COVAX facility. However, this mechanism has failed to deliver on its promise. For example, U.S. States have received more vaccines than the entire Africa has from COVAX.
What is the way forward?
  • First, considering the positive development from the U.S, developing countries must start issuing compulsory licences. Even, The Doha declaration on TRIPS permits their use in a public health emergency.
  • Second, High-income countries and multilateral agencies should provide financial and technical support to enable expansion of global production capacity.
  • Third, credible regulatory agencies and the World Health Organization can assess the efficacy and safety of their products.

Source: The Hindu

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