Ensure equality in global Covid-19 vaccines access

LETTERS: Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) is an agreement between World Trade Organisation (WTO) members that provide the minimum standards for national governments to regulate intellectual property (IP).

On Oct 2, 2020, India and South Africa proposed a temporary suspension of IP rights for Covid-19 vaccines and other coronavirus-related medical equipment at WTO.

They argued that waiving Trips obligations would enable more countries to manufacture necessary Covid-19 doses in the absence of the right owner's consent.

The suggested waiver involves copyright, industrial designs, patents and undisclosed information.

Hence, member states are entitled to withhold implementation, application and enforcement of their international obligations.

One year and a half after the proposal was tabled, no agreement has been reached despite numerous talks and negotiations.

The most apparent reason for the Trips waiver at the international level is that a WTO member state would be barred from claiming compensation from another member state.

Without the waiver, the latter is subject to the WTO dispute resolution mechanisms, of which parties will attempt to reach agreement without resorting to litigation.

If consultations fail to resolve the dispute within 60 days, the complainant may request adjudication by a panel and the panel's decision binds the parties.

Without the transfer of necessary know-how, it is unlikely that a state government or domestic pharmaceutical companies can manufacture generic vaccines, at least not within a short period.

Each vaccine must undergo extensive and rigorous testing to ensure its safety before it can be rolled out, which takes up an enormous amount of time.

For instance, a published patent of a Covid-19 vaccine carries a description of what the vaccine is. It, however, does not list down the detailed manufacturing process.

Opponents of the Trips waiver have been describing such a situation as if offering someone a recipe that includes all of the ingredients, but no instructions on how to bake the cake.

Even if domestic pharmaceutical companies happen to find their way out of the scarce information, the safety and reliability of the generic vaccines are the subsequent considerations that need to be pondered upon.

When reputable vaccines are causing severe side effects, it's tough for generic vaccines to gain public confidence.

In this case, the Trips waiver resulting in the mushrooming of Covid-19 vaccine options serves no purpose. The waiver is arguably a move going against the objective of IP protection.

Vaccine supply constraints are likely to persist despite stepping into the third year of Covid-19.

According to Amnesty International, less than eight per cent of Africa's 1.2 billion people had been fully vaccinated by the end of 2021, but the European Union, United Kingdom and United States have more than enough doses on hand.

Instead of the Trips waiver, a better step would be to relocate the supply and ensure equality in the global access to Covid-19 vaccines.


Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories