How Joe Biden’s support for Covid vaccine patent waiver can boost fight against pandemic

By: |
May 06, 2021 11:28 AM

Once the patent restrictions are waived off and the formula of the vaccine shared, several pharma companies which have required infrastructure and technology will be able to produce vaccine doses more quickly and in more numbers.

joe bidenAbout 16 million unvaccinated adults need to receive at least one dose in the next four weeks for Biden to meet his goal.

Making a crucial statement in favour of cheaper Coronavirus vaccines, the Biden administration on Wednesday said that the US government would support waiving patents on Coronavirus vaccines. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai was quoted as saying that the US government was a strong votary of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) but in service of quickly ending the Coronavirus pandemic will support waiver of patents, as per an Indian Express report. Demands to do away with the IPR and patent regime at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in case of the Coronavirus vaccines have also been made by several mid and low income countries and human rights groups.

How will patent waiver make vaccines affordable?
At present only those pharma companies which developed the vaccine themselves or their partner pharma companies in other countries are able to manufacture Covid vaccines. Once the patent restrictions are waived off and the formula of the vaccine shared, several pharma companies which have required infrastructure and technology will be able to produce vaccine doses more quickly and in more numbers.

Health experts have expressed fear that the constant mutations in Coronavirus will render even the presently approved vaccines ineffective if steps are not taken to control its spread in poorer and low income countries which have no or very limited access to Coronavirus vaccines. In addition to ethical considerations of equitable vaccine distribution among all countries, health experts have warned that limited access to vaccines could endanger the fight against Coronavirus and newer variants could pose trouble even for the developed countries which are vaccinating large populations of their country in order to end the pandemic.

Has India demanded waiver of patents on Covid-19 vaccines?
India, leading the pack of low and middle income countries along with South Africa, had submitted a proposal to the WTO way back in October last year demanding waiver of patent on vaccines. India had demanded that the formula of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer Coronavirus vaccines be shared with pharma companies around the world. The proposal had gravitated more than 100 countries in its favour at the time. However, the developed world led by the European Union and the United States had outrightly rejected and opposed the proposal.

Why developed countries’ Pharma giants are opposing the waiver
In addition to the powerful commercial interests, the pharma companies have said that waiver of patents would not only endanger the quality and safety of vaccines but would also hamper their research and development against future pandemics. They have further argued that the patent and IPR regime protects and encourages these companies to invest money and efforts into developing such critical medicines and vaccines. The companies have further argued that stripping pharma companies of their patent would also discourage them to develop vaccines against the variants of Coronavirus in future.

What after the Biden administration’s support?
The support from the Biden administration is certainly going to boost the demand for waiver of patent rights. However, the final decision at the WTO has to be taken by consensus only and other countries/blocs which blocked the move in October last year such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia will also have to support the move at the WTO.

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