Voluntary Licensing Mechanism for Vaccines Will Ensure Social Justice

Synopsis: Other alternatives available to boost Vaccine supply are less effective. But Voluntary licensing Mechanism for Covid 19 vaccines will lead to affordable and accessible vaccines.

  • Affordable vaccination is the key to achieve global herd immunity and to prevent new strains of COVID-19.
  • To make vaccines affordable there are multiple arrangements globally. Such as
    • Voluntarily licensing: Manufacturers can place their licensing agreements for which they owned patent rights in the UN-affiliated Medicines Patent Pool.
    • Compulsory licensing: Through TRIPS Waiver on Patent rights, for Covid-19 vaccines under WTO TRIPS agreement.
    • COVAX Program: It was established to purchase vaccine doses and donate them to low-income countries but does not involve modifying patent rights
    • WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool: a patent-sharing pool for Covid-19 products.
  • However, a voluntary licensing mechanism will be more effective in achieving the target of affordable and universal vaccination. Further, it has been successfully demonstrated in making AIDS drugs more affordable.
How voluntary licensing can make medical drugs affordable?
  • The case study of AIDS drugs can better explain how voluntary licensing can make medical drugs/ vaccines more affordable.
  • During the 1990s, the WTO started implementing a global intellectual property regime known as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement (TRIPS).
  • After that, there was anti-TRIPS activism around the globe due to fear of price rise of essential medicines because of the TRIPS agreement.
  • Responding to anti-TRIPS activism from low-income countries, some manufacturers who owned patent rights to produce AIDS drugs placed their licensing agreements in the UN-affiliated Medicines Patent Pool.
  • This allowed Several India-based companies to use the voluntary licences to manufacture these drugs on a massive scale and sell them at prices they determine.
  • This effort brought down the price of key AIDS medications in low-income countries. For instance, tenofovir, the first-line treatment for HIV/AIDS, has come down in price from $200-$500 per person per year to $39 per person per year in low-income countries.
What are the issues in other alternative mechanisms?
  1. First, the Voluntary licensing mechanism will reduce the cost and time taken to manufacture vaccines compared to producing vaccines through a ‘Compulsory licensing agreement’.
    • Voluntary licensing enables goodwill among Patent right holding companies and general manufacturers.
    • It will enable easy flow of “technology transfer” thereby reducing the cost and time taken to manufacture vaccines.
      • About Compulsory licensing:
      • Compulsory licenses is a mechanism to override patent rights. It allows local production or import of drugs by generic manufacturers in the event of a public health crisis.
      • This right has been enshrined in the Doha Declaration addendum to the WTO’s TRIPS agreement.
      • This is what India and South Africa are lobbying for in the WTO, having recently been joined by the United States.
  2. Second, COVAX Programme faces the issue of underfunding. Also, Similar attempts like COVAX Programme during the AIDS crisis were chronically underfunded and had only minor effects on that pandemic compared to the voluntary licensing.
  3. Third, the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool too faces issues similar to COVAX Programme. For instance, no patent holders have joined this effort. This is the reason why India and South Africa called on the WTO to temporarily waive patent protections for COVID-19.
Way forward
  • Patents are not absolute ownership rights. They are a temporary contract that balances the public interest with the claims of the innovator.
  • Further, billions of dollars are spent through public money to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Considering the above facts, patent owners should enable the mass production of affordable vaccines by granting voluntary licensing for Covid-19 vaccines.

Source: The Hindu


What is Compulsory Licensing?

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