Vaccines candidates for Covid 19 are at the forefront of the news. A proposal by India and South Africa for the World Trade Organization to suspend the implementation, application, and enforcement of relevant provisions under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the COVID-19 vaccine is now creating an IP dispute. India and South Africa have asked the WTO to waive certain TRIPS provisions to ensure access to Covid 19 medicines without IP restrictions. In October the WTO started discussing the issue.
A number of developed countries have disputed the proposals and counter proposals have been made for licensing of patents to take place. The CTAP system has been proposed. The WHO has launched its Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP), inviting countries to share data, knowledge and intellectual property on vital, life-saving health products in the fight against the coronavirus. However India has pointed out in the WTO that no pharma companies have yet signed up to CTAP.
More WTO discussions are due to follow.
An old Indonesian vaccines dispute shows the risks when countries do not cooperate. The earlier issue arose from the 2005-7 H5N1 avian flu epidemic. A vaccine was created using samples from Indonesia by Australian research based pharmaceuticals maker CSL. However a dispute arose over access to the vaccine. The vaccine was developed using the Indonesian strain of the H5N1 virus, using samples submitted via the WHO. CSL argued the samples were obtained fairly for research, and there are no rights in the biomaterials themselves. CSL further had a contract to work on this and said they were not making a commercial vaccine. However Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, worried that ‘pharmaceutical industries of developed countries … produce and patent the products… and sell them back to the developing countries at unaffordable prices. As a result they withdrew from the WHO’s virus sample sharing programme.
A recent article by Helen Gubby of Stamford University argues the entire biomedical sector should be taken out of the patent system. There is an alternative she argues. The Coalition on Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) launched in 2017 at Davos uses public, government and philanthropic funding to create new vaccines through patent buyouts. In essence the R&D is funded, and the IP is acquired. There are also prizes for access and the IP. CEPI is funding several COVID‐19 vaccine candidates.
The international community needs to agree a clear structure to avoid lengthy arguments in 2021 over access Covid 19 vaccines.