Covid vaccine inputs: WTO lists ‘bottlenecks’ plaguing global vaccine trade, flags absence of norms to expedite supply

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July 22, 2021 1:45 AM

The list is based on the issues identified and suggestions made by speakers at the WTO’s webinars in June on regulatory cooperation during the pandemic.

The multilateral body said trade in vaccine inputs isn’t granted any special dispensation and is subject to standard import and export procedures. These include rigorous documentation requirements and frequent renewal of licences and certificates.The multilateral body said trade in vaccine inputs isn’t granted any special dispensation and is subject to standard import and export procedures. These include rigorous documentation requirements and frequent renewal of licences and certificates.

Amid a raging Covid crisis globally, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has flagged an absence of standardised procedures to expedite the supply of vaccine inputs and differences in the regulatory regime of various countries for the registration of jabs, as it presented a list of “bottlenecks” plaguing the global vaccine trade.

The multilateral body said trade in vaccine inputs isn’t granted any special dispensation and is subject to standard import and export procedures. These include rigorous documentation requirements and frequent renewal of licences and certificates.

“They (vaccine inputs) do not benefit from ‘green channels’ or other simplified or expedited procedures put in place for certain critical products to combat Covid-19 (e.g. procedures for personal protection equipment (PPE), medical equipment and vaccines),” the WTO said while presenting its “indicative list” of bottlenecks.

The list is based on the issues identified and suggestions made by speakers at the WTO’s webinars in June on regulatory cooperation during the pandemic.

According to Laetitia Bigger, vaccines policy director at International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, over 3 billion Covid vaccines had been supplied globally by June, with producers on track to manufacture an estimated 10-12 billion by the end of 2021. So far, some 89 million vaccines have been shipped through COVAX, which is global initiative for equitable access to the vaccines, but the pace of deliveries has been adversely affected.

Similarly, differences between countries with regard to regulatory frameworks, procedures and timelines adds complexity for vaccine manufacturers. “Significant variation among registration regime requirements across different regions can make it onerous for manufacturers to apply for registration in multiple locations,” the WTO said.

Researchers from the International Monetary Fund have estimated that about 11 billion doses are required to fully vaccinate 70% of the global population. But only 3.2 billion doses had been administered until July 4. At this pace, only about six billion doses could be administered by the end of 2021. The WHO said in April that richer countries had received more than 87% of the vaccine doses by then while low-income nations just 0.2%.

The WTO said vaccine manufacturers may find it difficult to send even non-commercial samples for testing and quality control purposes to specialised laboratories located abroad, which is a time-sensitive operation. These samples are subject to the same import and export procedures as commercial shipments, including export restrictions, which can delay the entire process leading up to distribution.

Similarly, some national regulatory authorities (NRAs) require local retesting of vaccines, instead of relying on the releasing country, which can lead to delays and spoilage.

While listing the measures to facilitate global vaccine trade, the WTO said: “Enhanced cooperation among governments, international organisations and the private sector is critical to ensure that all relevant stakeholders have sufficient information to make decisions.”

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