US Backs TRIPS Waiver to Strip Vaccines of Patent Protection as WHA Pushes Local Vaccine Capacity

The US reaffirmed its support for COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property waivers Friday as World Health Assembly delegates and experts discussed how to promote local production of medicines in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

US delegate A Lipstein Fristedt,

An Ethiopia-led resolution to stimulate local production of medicines and health technologies has the support of WHO’s African Region, the European Union, the United States, China, Brazil and other nations.

“The United States believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” said US delegate A Lipstein Fristedt, US FDA deputy commissioner for policy, legislation and international affairs.

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council set an informal meeting Monday (31 May) to discuss an Indian and South African proposal for an IP waiver on COVID-19 products. 

The council’s power balance shifted in the weeks since the US voiced support for a vaccine-related waiver, although the European Union is trying to broker a “third way” rather than a waiver.

Price Transparency

Ethiopia’s Alegnta Gebreyesus Guntie

The resolution urges member states to take into account “the rights and obligations” listed in the TRIPS Agreement, including those affirmed by the Doha Declaration: “to promote access to medicines and other health technologies for all”.

The resolution calls for “transparency of prices and economic data along the value chain of medicines, including locally produced medicines, and other health technologies” to address the non-disclosure agreements between countries and pharmaceutical companies that contribute to higher prices. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerabilities of many low- and middle-income countries, most of them African countries with no or low local production capacities, exacerbating their challenges of inadequate access to the most-needed vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and other health technologies,” Alegnta Gebreyesus Guntie, Ethiopia’s representative, said on behalf of 47 WHO Africa Region countries.

She explained: “The draft resolution strengthens local production and know-how, promotes technology transfer and innovation, considers the TRIPS agreements and intellectual property rights in the context of local production, and strengthens the mandate for the WHO to work with continental bodies such as Africa Union, to provide member states with support to build capacity for local production.”.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s Dr W Kariuki said acute shortage of COVID-19 vaccines “is contrary to public health goals, as it erodes public trust, breeds vaccine hesitancy and prolongs the acute phase of the pandemic”. 

The resolution, which has the support of over 100 countries, is likely to be adopted by this year’s WHA.

Meanwhile, WHO’s Africa Region revealed this week that the continent only has enough vaccines to cover 1% of the population. African countries that received AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX now urgently need 20 million additional doses to give those who have had one dose their second vaccination, but India’s Serum Institute has stopped supplying COVAX with vaccines.




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