India, South Africa to make fresh push for waiver of vaccine patents at WTO

May 01, 2021 09:54 PM IST

Diplomats of the two countries are working on revising the text of a proposal originally submitted by India and South Africa last October.

India and South Africa are preparing for a fresh push at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a waiver of patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines though the success of the move will largely depend on the position adopted by the US and other developed countries, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Saturday.

Covid-19 vaccination drive (File photo)
Covid-19 vaccination drive (File photo)

Diplomats of the two countries are working on revising the text of a proposal originally submitted by India and South Africa last October to waive intellectual property rights such as patents and other protections for Covid-19 vaccines and medicines so that they can be more accessible.

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“It is the same proposal though with a revised text,” said one of the people cited above.

It is expected the revised proposal will highlight the urgent need to ensure equitable and speedy access to vaccines in light of the devastating second wave of Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections in India, which has already seen record-breaking figures of more than 400,000 cases being reported in a day.

The revised proposal is also likely to state that patent protections for vaccines be waived for a limited timeframe in order to address the concerns of the US, European Union and other states that opposed the original proposal, the people said.

The fresh proposal is expected to be presented to the WTO sometime in the next two weeks, the people said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue during a phone conversation with US President Joe Biden on April 26, the people said. An official statement issued by the Indian side after the conversation had said that Modi emphasised the “need to ensure smooth and open supply chains of raw materials and inputs required for the manufacture of vaccines, medicines, and therapeutics”.

Asked about the matter by reporters on Thursday, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “no option is off the table”.

She said, “We’re going to do what in the best interest of ending the pandemic. We are already engaged in steps to increase vaccine production. Moderna announced that it will not enforce its Covid-19-related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic... And I want to be clear that no option is off the table and our guiding principle is getting safe vaccines fast.”

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Tuesday the US would “evaluate whether it’s more effective to manufacture [the vaccines] here and provide supply to the world or the IP waiver is an option,” but added that the US president had not made a decision as yet.

Under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), exemptions can be made for suspending patent protections on medicines needed in an emergency. India and South Africa have worked together in the past to obtain a similar exemption for drugs needed to treat HIV/AIDS.

However, developers of Covid-19 vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have opposed any waiver for their doses, saying they are capable of producing adequate jabs to meet the global demand. The pharmaceutical majors have also contended that smaller manufacturers in the developing world do not possess the technology or the skills to produce such complex vaccines.

The original proposal submitted by India and South Africa to the TRIPS Council on October 2 last year stated that it is “important for WTO members to work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat Covid-19”.

It further said, “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at an affordable price to meet the global demand.”

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