Decision to waive IP protection for vaccines clears hurdle for countries to manufacture own versions
After Joe Biden’s administration threw its weight behind the World Trade Organisation (WTO) proposal of waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, left-leaning politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demanded a similar approach for other life-saving drugs such as Insulin.
“Let’s do insulin next,” tweeted Ms Ocasio-Cortez, democratic representative from New York. Her proposal got support from Arizona senator Martin J Quezada, who retweeted the congresswoman saying: “Yes! Insulin please!”
Under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, pharmaceutical companies are awarded monopoly control over vaccine production. This has sparked a backlash amid the pandemic because it could hinder poor countries from ramping up their own supplies.
Now the WTO has reportedly urged member nations to each temporarily ease the rules protecting intellectual property for vaccinations in an effort to make them more accessible for struggling countries.
The decision to waive the IP protection for Covid-19 vaccines clears a hurdle for vaccine-strapped countries to manufacture their own vaccines even though the patents are privately held.
However, there is a fear that the move will rattle the pharma companies and they would be less keen to develop a new treatment during the next crisis.
Calling it a “short-sighted and ineffectual decision,” the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, a representative body for the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland said that the waiver would set back “the medicine innovation agenda.”
“We are urging the Government to oppose the waiver and to continue to back intellectual property as the formula for the invention of new vaccines, medicines and technologies,” Oliver O’Connor, the chief executive of the IPHA was quoted as saying by The Irish Times.
He further said that a waiver would risk “diverting raw materials and supplies away from well-established, effective supply chains to less efficient manufacturing sites where productivity and quality may be an issue” and “risks the entry of counterfeit vaccines” into global supplies.
The US patent system has long been criticised for the barrier it poses to essential life-saving drugs such as Insulin.
As a result of the high cost, one in every four people with diabetes reported insulin underuse, found a 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine magazine.