WHO Director General Calls On WTO To Take ‘Practical’ Action On IP Waiver For COVID Vaccines & Medicines  
Mariângela Simão WHO Assistant Director-General on access to medicines

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gheyebresus on Friday issued his strongest call to date for a waiver on intellectual property related to COVID vaccines, medicines and other health products – which is due to be considered next week by the World Trade Organization’s General Council.

While welcoming a new UN Security Council resolution also approved on Friday, which calls for broader access to COVID vaccines in conflict zones and poor countries, Dr Tedros stressed that the UN resolution needed to be accompanied by concrete global actions of the kind that the WTO was positioned to take – by relaxing rules that restrict the generic manufacture and trade in patented COVID vaccines and health products. 

“I’m glad the UN Security Council has voted in favour of vaccine equity. And at the same time, if we’re going to take practical solutions, then the waiver of intellectual property should be taken seriously,” Tedros told the media at the body’s bi-weekly COVID-19 briefing.

“Voting for vaccine equity is important and we appreciate that. But concrete steps should be taken to waive intellectual property to increase production, increase coverage of immunisation and get rid of this virus as soon as possible.”

Referring to joint South African/India proposed TRIPS [Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] waiver to be discussed at the WTO, Tedros said that the pandemic was a “once-in-100-years occurrence”, so if the waiver “can’t be used now, when will it be used?”

The UN Security Council resolution, which was passed unanimously, calls for “the strengthening of national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation.. to facilitate equitable and affordable access to Covid-19 vaccines in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and complex humanitarian emergencies.”

It also calls on developed economies to donate vaccines to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need.

Voluntary Licenses Could Also Be Tool For Increasing Manufacturing Capacity & Tech Transfer

WHO special adviser Bruce Aylward stressed that pharma should also issue more ‘voluntary licenses’ to firms in other countries for the generic manufacture of life-saving vaccines as a means of increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity and ease supplies. .

Mariângela Simão, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines & Health Products, added that the WHO-managed COVID Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) offers a way to “share technology and issue voluntary licenses”.  However, so far there have been few, if any, industry takers in the COVID patent pooling plan. 

As a result, the WHO is “very interested in the outcomes ” of the upcoming WTO discussions, said Simão, saying: “Intellectual property is always a very sensitive topic in anything that’s related to access to medicines… Countries are looking for alternatives to increase production capacity and of course, this includes how to manage the intellectual property rights.

“We welcome any movement from countries to decrease and address current barriers to access as well as barriers to access that could be seen mid- and long-term. So this is quite an important discussion.”

Nigeria expects COVAX Vaccines Next Week

Also addressing the press conference were Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Representative in Nigeria

Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control

Nigeria, which has a population of over 200 million, has secured close to 14 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX, and expects 4 million of these doses to be delivered next week, according to Mulombo.

Ihekweazu said that Nigeria had chosen not to do any bilateral deals with pharma suppliers, but rather to work only in a multilateral fashion through COVAX and the African Union.

“We will prioritise our health care workers, absolutely first,” said Ihekweazu. “We’re making some very hard decisions. I think at the end of the day, the key thing is we all recognise that we can only impact on transmission and reduce the burden in our hospitals if we target the right people, initially at the right pace, and at the right distribution.”

“Everything will come into play, not only the priority population groups but geography as well.  We have a very uneven outbreak in Nigeria. Lagos State, for instance, has 40% of all the cases in Nigeria, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they are prioritised to a certain extent. But at the same time, we need to get some vaccines to every state in Nigeria. It’s a big country and a complex country, a lot of detailed planning is going into ensuring that the vaccines get to the right people as quickly as possible, so that we can get the outbreak under control.”


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