Sunday, May 9

UK Faces Calls to Drop Opposition to Patent-Free Covid Vaccines | Coronavirus

The UK will be asked to reconsider its opposition to giving up intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments at a meeting of the World Trade Organization on Friday, a move that would allow the mass production of treatments and inoculations against disease and could significantly shorten the duration. from the pandemic, activists say.

India and South Africa Have proposed WTO member states to be allowed to waive patents and other intellectual property (IP) rights on any Covid-19-related treatments and tools until the end of the pandemic, including the expected Moderna and Pfizer / BionNTech vaccines that are approved for use in the coming weeks.

Discussions on the proposal will be held again in Geneva on November 20. Opponents of the move include the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and the EU, all of which have booked billions of doses of potential vaccines through bilateral agreements.

If the exemption were adopted, it would allow manufacturers to start producing Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and any other tools used to fight the disease without fear of being sued or prosecuted.

“It would open up its knowledge, data and patents to all manufacturers around the world who could do this,” said Roz Scourse, a policy advisor at Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Advocacy groups say pharmaceutical companies have received record-breaking taxpayer funding, including $ 2.5 billion (£ 1.88 billion) for Pfizer / BioNTech, $ 2.48 billion for Moderna and $ 1.7 billion for the AstraZeneca / candidate University of Oxford, according to MSF, but they maintain control over who receives the vaccine, when, and over the price and quantities.

In its statement of opposition to the exemption at a WTO meeting in October, the UK government said that the existing intellectual property system allowed pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily share data and technology, and some had already done so.

“Beyond hypotheses, we have not identified clear ways in which intellectual property has acted as a barrier to accessing vaccines, treatments or technologies in the global response to Covid-19,” the UK mission told the trade group. .

“A waiver of intellectual property rights established in travel [trade-related intellectual property rights] The settlement is an extreme measure to address an unproven problem. The UK is of the view that following the proposed path would be counterproductive and undermine a regime that offers solutions to the problems at hand. “

Companies such as AstraZeneca and Novavax have reached agreements with Gavi, an alliance that aims to increase immunization in poor countries, and others to share their technology with the Serum Institute of India and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an agreement that will provide the fewer than 200 million applicants from low-income countries or both at a maximum price of $ 3 per dose.

Moderna has said it will not enforce its patents over the course of the pandemic, while companies like Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have said they will sell their vaccines at cost for at least a temporary period.

But activists say companies should waive all intellectual property rights – not only in patents – and disclose costs behind the development and distribution of their vaccines so their non-profit pricing statements can be scrutinized.

The global supply of Covid-19 vaccines is likely to be well below what is required through at least 2024, limited by limited manufacturing capacity and countries hogging doses, according to a study by Duke University in the United States. this month. The mostly wealthy state governments have already reserved more than 3.7 billion doses, with negotiations underway for at least another 5 billion.

More than 180 countries have joined the Covax Facility, a scheme that aims to equitably distribute 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021. But the platform will compete for supplies with countries that have signed direct agreements with pharmaceutical companies and may have done it. wait until at least some of them are honored before you start receiving your first supplies.

“Our assumption at this point is that we can get to 2 billion doses [by the end of 2021]”Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, one of the groups that Covax leads, said in a call last week.

“In terms of overall numbers and in terms of time, that will depend on which vaccines are ultimately successful and if they are in the works. Our hope, and our intent, will be to try to make vaccines available more or less at the same time in developed and developing countries. “

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