COVID Vaccines, Patents and WTO TRIPS Agreement

Quite a few experts have commented on this issue already but its not being discussed in so called mainstream media. Basically TRIPS stands for The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and is managed by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

TRIPS allows countries to do what is necessary to protect its citizens in an emergency, including infringement of national patent rights, for example compulsory licenses to manufacture a drug or import these drugs (Art 31 and Art 31bis). Clearly COVID 19 is such an emergency and an attempt was made by India and South Africa in Nov 2020 to waive a few TRIPS IP provisions to ensure access to COVID 19 vaccines. However a delegation including the US, UK and a few EU member states rejected any such waiver and encouraged the two countries to use compulsory license provisions. These may be too slow and cumbersome, especially as RNA Vaccines are so difficult to make and transport, see here.

In fact this provision has only been invoked once before (Rwanda, TriAvir, Apotex). In 2007 Rwanda notified the WTO Council for TRIPS that it plans to import the HIV-drug TriAvir from the Canadian company Apotex and will not enforce any relevant patents there. Canada issued a compulsory license allowing Apotex to use nine patented inventions for manufacturing and exporting TriAvir to Rwanda and subsequently Canada notified the Council for TRIPS of the compulsory license. This is described in detail here.

In a Pandemic when Pharma Companies are receiving $billions of public money to develop vaccines, surely IP Rights should not be obstacles to getting everyone on this shared planet vaccinated as quickly as possible.

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