Their drumbeat for the World Trade Organization (WTO) call for an amnesty on intellectual property protection (IPP) for drug patents is on the rise in the ongoing Kovid epidemic. Last October, India and South Africa sought such an amnesty from its Council of Intellectual Property Rights Trade Aspects (TRIPS) at the WTO. Although many developing countries have since supported joint action, most developed countries, home to the world’s major pharmaceutical companies, have opposed it.
In particular, during a conversation between US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 26, when the apology was raised by the Indian side, the call was dropped from the White House readout, and a spokesman specifically said the U.S. was going to remove its opposition to the proposal. The president faces pressure from his Democratic Party’s ‘progressive’ or leftist parties, which strongly supports the apology initiative.
Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, along with activist Lori Wallach, wrote an opinion The Washington Post (‘It is morally wrong and foolish to protect intellectual property barriers to Kovid-19 vaccines’, April 26), arguing that failure to file a case for such an amnesty and support would impede the global vaccine drive, “morally wrong and foolish”.
Unfortunately, on the surface, the call for forgiveness is, at best, distracting and, at worst, a red herring in the current global public health debate. As WTO Secretary-General Ngozi Okonzo-Ivela noted, there is a legitimate “third way” that allows the inventors of those vaccines to make life-saving vaccines while preserving IPP. These are countries through which companies want to make vaccine dosages through voluntary licensing arrangements between drug companies and for their own use. In fact, and ironically, this is exactly what has happened in India, with a licensing agreement between Astrogeneca and the Serum Institute of India that allows for both domestic use and the manufacture of vaccines. Kovid-19 vaccines, also known as Kovix, contribute to the global access facility export, and also dosage.
Recent difficulties with this arrangement include diverting certain doses intended for export to India (or for Kovacs) to the domestic vaccine drive, due to the second epidemic currently plaguing India. It does not in any way reflect the failure of the underlying rationale for voluntary licensing arrangements. Simply put, despite amnesty for India and other countries today, vaccine production will not increase tomorrow. India’s limiting factors are the scarcity of raw materials and low production capacity, both of which cannot be cured with the magic bullet of the WTO amnesty.
What’s more, India will soon start making other important global vaccines under similar licensing arrangements, and the waiver will do nothing to speed up the process, which includes, again, supply and limited production capacity. Apologies do not want these away.
If India or any other developing country requires more production than is possible through licenses from global manufacturers, another alternative is available, which is ‘compulsory licensing’, so that the emergency caused by the Kovid to deal with the health, the WTO member can use the patent for his own home Allows ‘licensing’ to produce a global vaccine. Such an approach would not allow the export of vaccine doses manufactured under mandatory licenses, but then, in public health emergencies, the most important objective is not to export to other countries except to produce doses for domestic consumption.
True, India is one of the pioneers of mandatory licensing for life-saving drugs, and there is no reason why any developing country should not adopt this policy, if for some reason global pharmaceutical companies do not want to play ball and license the life-saving vaccine for domestic manufacture and distribution in that country .
The WTO amnesty does nothing to address the real barriers to global production and the distribution of vaccines, which sets a bad example, creating a serious ethical risk problem that severely undermines the promotion of global pharmaceutical companies. The vast resources needed in the naturally dangerous process to find future life-saving drugs.
Governments, including the U.S. and others, have significantly subsidized or promoted the research and development activities of private pharmaceutical companies that hold patents for major Kovid vaccines. However, these governments need the ingenuity of the private sector to invent these vaccines. If not, they have easy resources for government laboratories to detect these vaccines. Instead, they chose to invest public resources in a private company, a type of public-private partnership that is common in basic research and not specific to the development of Kovid vaccines.
While this may seem appealing, the WTO amnesty is an undue priority over intellectual property protection. It is a distraction from the heavy lifting needed to create the ability to fight Covid’s curse.