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9 March 2021Big PharmaRory O' Neill

WHO head calls for IP waiver to beat COVID-19

The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a waiver on IP rights to ensure more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Writing in  The Guardian on Friday, March 5, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a “me first” approach to vaccination wouldn’t defeat the virus.

“Whether it’s dose sharing, tech transfer or voluntary licensing, as the WHO’s own Covid-19 Technology Access Pool initiative encourages, or waiving IP rights, as South Africa and  India have suggested, we need to pull out all the stops,” Tedros said.

“Waiving patents temporarily won’t mean innovators miss out. Like during the HIV crisis or in a war, companies will be paid royalties for the products they manufacture,” he added.

Patent owners have come under pressure during the pandemic to ensure that IP rights don’t inhibit access to vaccines, medicines and other technologies used in the fight against COVID-19.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet this week to discuss proposals for waivers on vaccine patents, supported chiefly by South Africa and India. Higher-income countries have so far refused to back the plans.

Covax, the WHO-sponsored vaccine access programme, has begun making its first deliveries to lower-income countries. More than 1.7 million doses arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week, while Nigeria received 4 million.

“Waiving patents temporarily won’t mean innovators miss out. Like during the HIV crisis or in a war, companies will be paid royalties for the products they manufacture,” Tedros wrote.

“While governments and pharmaceutical groups are key to equitable vaccine rollout, everyone has a role to play. For multinational corporations that rely on trade and travel, for example, donating to Covax is the fastest way to speed up the effort to end the pandemic and get humans moving again,” he added.

The rush to manufacture vaccine doses has seen several pharmaceutical rivals enter into collaboration agreements. Sanofi, for instance, is helping to manufacture Janssen’s one-shot jab, while Pfizer and Moderna have partnered with biotech companies to speed up production.

AstraZeneca, meanwhile, has pledged not to profit from its vaccine partnership with  Oxford University for the duration of the pandemic. However, as  The Financial Times reported last year, the pandemic period will be considered to have ended, for the purposes of the pledge, on July 1, 2021. This deadline could be extended if “AstraZeneca acting in good faith considers that the SARS-COV-2 pandemic is not over,” said the report.

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2 March 2021   The Indian government has called upon members of the WTO to deliver on its proposal to waive IP obligations in order to deal more effectively with the COVID-19 pandemic.
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2 March 2021   Thom Tillis, ranking member of the senate IP subcommittee, has urged US president Joe Biden to oppose ‘harmful’ proposals to waive rights related to COVID-19 vaccines currently in discussions at the World Trade Organisation.
Big Pharma
29 March 2021   The World Health Organization has warned the public of the danger of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines and urged people not to procure jabs outside of government channels.

More on this story

Medtech
2 March 2021   The Indian government has called upon members of the WTO to deliver on its proposal to waive IP obligations in order to deal more effectively with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medtech
2 March 2021   Thom Tillis, ranking member of the senate IP subcommittee, has urged US president Joe Biden to oppose ‘harmful’ proposals to waive rights related to COVID-19 vaccines currently in discussions at the World Trade Organisation.
Big Pharma
29 March 2021   The World Health Organization has warned the public of the danger of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines and urged people not to procure jabs outside of government channels.