Guest article: Ella Weggen & Marianne Meijer, Global Health Advovates, Wemos
TRIPS waiver, C-TAP, the use of compulsory licensing, donations through COVAX – various strategies have been proposed to increase global access to COVID-19 vaccines. One way or another, sharing of intellectual property rights, know-how and technology for vaccine production are vital. According to EPHA member Wemos, which strategies should global health advocates push for?
To end the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as possible, everyone in the world needs access to safe and effective vaccines. The current vaccine supply is insufficient – at this rate, some countries will not have access to vaccines until 2024. Therefore, the manufacturing capacity of vaccines needs to be maximized. More certified pharmaceutical companies should use their factories for vaccine production. To enable them to do so, pharmaceutical companies with approved vaccines on the market must share their patent rights, know-how and technology.
The so-called TRIPS waiver, subject of widespread media attention, seeks allowance for countries to temporarily suspend certain TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) protections. As such, patent rights could be waived for the duration of the pandemic. This would be a step in the right direction. However, to effectively maximize the production capacity, there are more hurdles to overcome. In addition to the non-enforcement of patent rights, manufacturers should acquire the know-how and technology (e.g. test data, instruction manuals, technical training) necessary to produce vaccines. This is possible through pooling mechanisms such as the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub of the World Health Organization (WHO).
As an alternative to the TRIPS waiver, the European Commission proposed the use of compulsory licenses, when voluntary cooperation with pharmaceutical companies fails. This proposal repeats in TRIPS established standards. Throughout the pandemic, no country has made use of compulsory licenses, as it entails, amongst other aspects, lengthy (country-level) negotiations and procedures and strict export conditions. Therefore, the TRIPS clarification, which is what the EU proposal essentially entails, is unlikely to offer solace. Furthermore, just as the TRIPS waiver, it does not encompass know-how and technology transfer.
COVAX is a by the WHO co-led initiative to support fair and equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. Tragically, COVAX only managed to deliver 87 million vaccine doses to 131 countries, which is far from being on track to reach the initial objective of administering 2 billion doses (of the required 11 billion to vaccinate the world) before the end of this year. The G7 countries announced to donate 870 million vaccines, partly through COVAX. Although these donations can be encouraged, they are insufficient in curbing the tide as soon as possible. It is more productive and sustainable to enable countries to manufacture vaccines themselves, as it accelerates their access and reduces their dependency on others.
Sharing know-how and technology
It is evident that the production capacity of vaccines must be maximized, and that manufacturers not only require patent rights but also know-how and technology. Therefore, Wemos calls upon EPHA members to advocate both temporary suspension of patent rights and the sharing of know-how and technology for vaccine production, through C-TAP or similar initiatives.