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Biden, rights groups back patent-mukt vaccine, WHO hails

Indo-SA plea to WTO gains momentum

By B N KUMAR

In a major development, The Biden-Harris Administration has supported an Indo-South Africa move for patent-free COVID-19 vaccines

MUMBAI, May 6 (The CONNECT) – The Biden-Harris Administration has extended support to a Indo-South Africa move for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, thus paving way for much easier access to the antidote and bringing about vaccine equity across the globe.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already also informed Biden on April 26 about India's initiative at the WTO for a relaxation in the norms of the Agreement on TRIPS to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries. In his telephonic conversation with President Biden, Modi The Prime Minister underscored the need to ensure smooth and open supply chains of raw materials and inputs required for manufacture of vaccines, medicines, and therapeutics related to COVID-19.

In a widely hailed statement, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said “this is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.” 

“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved, Ambassador Tai said.

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Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO): “The virus doesn’t respect borders, or nationalities, or age, or sex or religion.”

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The WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has earlier supported the Indo-SA initiative, welcomed the US’ announcement. This is a monumental moment in the fight against COVID19, Dr Tedros tweeted. "... the commitment by Joe Biden and USTR to support the waiver of IP protections on vaccines is a powerful example of the United States leadership to address global health challenges," he said.

The USTR said: “The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible.  As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution.  It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines."

The International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO), an international network of national human rights and civil liberties organizations from 15 countries in the North and South, have earlier urged the Biden administration to support the temporary, limited and targeted Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposal presented by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The INCLO letter quoted Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO): “The virus doesn’t respect borders, or nationalities, or age, or sex or religion.”

The current pattern of distribution has led to most vaccines being reserved for and being delivered to developed and high-income countries. In contrast, many lower income countries have either not seen any vaccination program rolled out or witnessed their programs lag behind significantly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one in four people in high- income countries have received a dose; in low-income countries the proportion is closer to 1 in 500, INCLO said.

Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, also supported the issue. He told the global media that he would push for the waiver at G-7 level as well.

Given this present context of global emergency, the Indo-SA proposal to WTO said, “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.”

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