South Africa, India and other developing countries are expected to demand TRIPS waiver for Covid-19 drugs and medical tools in addition to vaccines. With US Trade Representative Katharine Tai indicating American support only for talks on patent flexibility for vaccines at the WTO, the scope of the proposed waiver could turn out to be the next sticking point.
In October, India and South Africa had submitted a joint proposal, which had just outlined the broad areas of TRIPS waiver. The revised draft will provide the scope, in terms of coverage as well as the duration, which could be longer than originally expected. “Intellectual property is not the only barrier but definitely a significant barrier that can impact production of medical tools.… The scope (of the waiver) should cover health products and technology, including diagnostics, therapeutics, medical products and personal equipment,” South Africa’s ambassador to WTO Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter said at an online panel discussion.
Several patented medicines, which have been repurposed, are being commonly prescribed to tackle severe infection. The group of 60-odd developing countries is also insisting that negotiations for a deal should start in a few weeks so that it can be finalized at the earliest. “We have suggested that the TRIPS Council should meet in the second half of May itself, instead of waiting until next month,” said an officer. Experts too have said that time is of essence as a delay in supplying vaccines will adversely impact a larger population.
Experts too have said that time is of essence as a delay in supplying vaccines will adversely impact a larger population. Earlier this week, India’s ambassador to WTO Brajendra Navnit had suggested to the multilateral body that TRIPS waiver could be part of the deliverables ahead of the ministerial meeting in late November.
The proponents have argued that the current vaccine production capacity of 3.5 billion doses a year is inadequate when the requirement is around 14 billion. Given the idle capacity, production can be ramped up from the current level to nearly a billion doses a month. India has suggested that a global vaccination drive is needed to tackle Covid-19, just like the initiatives to deal with smallpox, measles and more recently polio. Nearly 1.5 billion vaccine doses may be needed to be produced every month. “In the first quarter we can expect the idle capacity to be used and over the next two-three quarters brownfield investment will flow,” said an official.
Countering the impact on pharma companies, which claim to have invested heavily in developing the vaccines, government sources said that the impact on pharma companies will be far lower than the loss in lives and lower economic activity due to the pandemic.