— Health

More support easing vaccine patent rules, but hurdles remain

The move to support waiving intellectual property protections on vaccines under World Trade Organization rules marked a dramatic shift for the United States — and drew cheers from activists, complaints from Big Pharma, and many questions about what comes next. Washington had previously lined up with many other developed nations opposed to the idea floated by India and South Africa in October.

Another critical hurdle remains: Any country could block a Geneva-based trade body of 164 member states’ decision at the WTO to agree to a waiver. The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the 27-nation bloc was ready to discuss the U.S. proposal — but remained noncommittal for now.

“We are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for waiver on intellectual property protection for COVID vaccines could help” end the crisis, she said in a video address. “In the short run, however, we call upon all vaccine-producing countries to allow exports and to avoid measures that disrupt supply chains.”

That echoed the position of the global pharmaceutical industry, which insists a faster solution would be for wealthy countries that have vaccine stockpiles to start sharing them with poorer ones.

“A waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to a complex problem,” said the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. “Waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis.”

The industry also says an IP waiver will do more harm than good in the long run by reducing the incentives that push innovators to make tremendous leaps, as they did with the vaccines churned out at a blistering, unprecedented speed to help fight COVID-19.

Supporters say a waiver would be vital because it would allow manufacturers worldwide to access the recipes for making the life-saving vaccines and the ingredients. They point to unused capacity — factories that could churn out vaccines but can’t because of intellectual property protections.

Some critics say developing countries have been seeking to water down those protections for years — long before the pandemic — and say it’s not clear that any manufacturers are standing by that are ready or able to produce COVID-19 vaccines. They note that the vaccines on the market can be incredibly difficult to make, and the know-how is a more significant obstacle to ramping up manufacturing.

Many experts and advocacy groups say any such waiver would need to be followed up by transferring the required technology to developing countries. Intellectual property expert Shyam Balganesh, a professor at Columbia Law School, said a waiver would remove “a lot of the bureaucracy” around WTO rules. Still, it would only go so far because of other bottlenecks in the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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