NEW DELHI: India and South Africa have floated a joint proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) seeking an intellectual property rights (IPR) waiver on Covid vaccines. It was met with resistance initially from western countries but has managed to garner considerable support since US President Joe Biden announced that his administration will back it.
However, the proposal is likely to face challenges when it is taken up for discussion at the WTO as well as in implementation. Experts say its implementation would largely depend on the text of the proposal that is eventually passed. Pharmaceutical patent lawyer Deepshikha Malhotra said though the proposal has garnered support from many countries, there is a section of the world that is not in support.
“The EU, for instance, has also suggested a counter-proposal which may be more effective than the joint India-South Africa proposal. It suggests easing exports and increase supply from manufacturers to developing countries,” she said. According to Malhotra, the world is currently not being able to fully utilise the vaccines that are being manufactured. “Almost 90% of developed nations are vaccinated and have stockpiles. When these are not being utilised, what is the rush to ensure waiver of patent or transfer of technology? There is a wide disparity.
Several African nations haven’t even got a single dose,” she said. The pharmaceutical patent lawyer goes on to add that compulsory licensing is a tool that could be used by countries to make sure that vaccines accessible for all. “The TRIPS agreement and individual laws of various countries allow for compulsory licensing. In such a situation, this can be availed and made sure that whatever is being manufactured is being compulsorily delivered to developing countries,” she added.
Another IPR expert and lawyer, who did not wish to be named, said despite the waiver, it would not be binding on companies to share the know-how of manufacturing. Malhotra cited the example of the US portal CTAP to elaborate on the point. “CTAP was created which urged all manufacturers to upload technical aspects of manufacturing on it. Not a single firm has uploaded anything so far. Just because governments are agreeing to it, companies will not share information,” she said.
A professor of IPR laws in a reputed private university cited the lack of manufacturing infrastructure in many countries as a hurdle in the implementation of the waiver if cleared by the WTO. “Even if the waiver is passed and there is knowhow present, will infrastructure for boosting manufacturing capacity be set up overnight? India and South Africa have said the waiver would be for three years. It would take longer than that just to build the infrastructure to fully utilize the waiver,” he said.
Malhotra believes that regulatory approval would also be a hurdle in the implementation of the waiver. “Even if there are firms which agree to take up manufacturing the vaccine, they will still individually have to go through the regulatory process and that will take some time,” she said.