New York: Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore has called for simplifying intellectual property rights governing Covid-19 vaccines in order to make them universally available, but expressed reservations about completely suspending the patents during the pandemic as demanded by India and South Africa.
“This challenge requires not forced IP waivers but proactive partnership and cooperation,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Simplify Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) through voluntary and proactive licensing by IPR holders,” to meet vaccine demands amid threats coronavirus variants, the Unicef head added.
Fore proposed a voluntary arrangement to expand vaccine manufacture and distribution and cited the cooperation between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India to manufacture the vaccine developed by Oxford University.
Covid-19 “variants are emerging all over the world, and with each, the risk of a massive global setback”, she said.
“At the current rate, there is simply not enough vaccine supply to meet demand. And the supply available is concentrated in the hands of too few. Some countries have contracted enough doses to vaccinate their populations several times, while other countries have yet to receive even their first dose.
“This threatens us all. The virus and its mutations will win.”
But she said that simplifying the IPR rules “alone won’t increase production. Unlike drug manufacture, vaccine production involves a complex manufacturing process with multiple components and steps”.
“IPR holders would need to provide technology partnerships to accompany IP licenses, proactively share know-how and sub-contract to manufacturers without undue geographic or volume restrictions,” Fore said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric backed Fore, saying: “The points that the executive director of Unicef makes are the ones that reflect our position. There needs to be ways to simplify the process.
“Obviously, the WTO is the body where the issue of patents will be discussed, but I think, in the meantime, there needs to be stronger partnerships between the owners of the patents, the manufacturers and all of the people involved in this supply chain to make the distribution faster and to, obviously, increase the volume.”
Asked about Washington’s reaction to the requests by India and South Africa, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price did not give a direct answer but said that President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are “deeply focused, on the issue of expanding global vaccine manufacturing and delivery, which, of course, will be critical to ending this pandemic”.
Price mentioned the agreement by leaders of the Quad — India, the US, Japan and Australia — at their summit last month for providing vaccines to countries in the region.
“We announced with our Quad partners that we’re working to achieve expanded manufacturing of safe and effective vaccines at facilities in India,” he said.
New Delhi and Pretoria made patent waiver proposal to the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council that deals with patent matters in October.
It has not taken a decision and in the meanwhile, the Serum Institute of India has been producing millions of doses of the vaccine through its arrangement with AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
The vaccines are being supplied to over 70 countries through the Indian government and COVAX, the World Health Organisation facility for providing vaccines to developing countries.