UNICEF chief calls for simplifying IPR for manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines

UNICEF Executive Director stressed that this challenge requires not forced Intellectual Property waivers but proactive partnership and cooperation.
Image used for representational purposes (Photo | PTI)
Image used for representational purposes (Photo | PTI)

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN children's agency has called for simplifying Intellectual Property Rights for manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines, cautioning that at the current rate, there is "simply not enough" supply of doses to meet the surging demand.

"In order to get ahead of the virus, and to shift gears, we must build on a strategy of vaccinating frontline workers but drive towards a strategy that truly enables equitable access for all," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement on Tuesday.

Governments that have contracted to receive more "future doses" than required to vaccinate their entire adult populations this year, should immediately loan, release or donate most or all excess contracted doses for 2021 to COVAX, so they can be allocated equitably among other countries, she said.

She urged governments, businesses and partners to take three urgent actions, including primarily to simplify Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) through voluntary and proactive licensing by IPR holders.

"But this alone won't increase production," she said, adding that 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.

She stressed that this challenge requires not forced Intellectual Property waivers but proactive partnership and cooperation.

She termed as "encouraging" examples of recent manufacturing partnerships such as Pfizer-BioNtech; AstraZeneca-Serum Institute of India, Johnson & Johnson- Merck and Johnson & Johnson-Aspen.

Urging others to follow suit and increase the scale and geographic diversity of manufacturing capacity, Fore said that while markets alone can't guarantee innovation benefits all, voluntary licensing, pooled funds and multilateral mechanisms such as COVAX are an effective and realistic way for product developers and manufacturers to collaborate, innovate, and encourage equitable access.

The Biden administration is deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccine manufacturing and delivery, a State Department official has said.

The official, however, refrained from indicating the position of the US on the request by several countries led by India and South Africa for intellectual property waiver of COVID-19 vaccines before the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"I don't have anything specific to preview or to add on our position at the WTO.

It is safe to say that the president is deeply focused, Secretary (of State, Antony) Blinken is deeply focused, on the issue of expanding global vaccine manufacturing and delivery, which, of course, will be critical to ending this pandemic," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference on Tuesday.

Fore added that while it is "astounding" that the world's scientists, businesses, governments, philanthropists and multilateral institutions created vaccines in less than a year to fight the coronavirus, the fight is not yet over.

"Variants are emerging all over the world, and with each, the risk of a massive global setback"

According to a media report, nearly 600 million doses have been administered thus far and only 4 per cent of the world's 7.8 billion people have been vaccinated.

She noted that at the current rate, there is simply not enough vaccine supply to meet demand and voiced concern that 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," she said.

Fore also underscored the need to end vaccine nationalism, saying governments should remove direct and indirect export- and import-control measures that block, restrict or slow down exports of COVID-19 vaccines, ingredients and supplies.

"Viruses respect no borders. Defeating COVID-19 in each of our home countries also means defeating it around the world by ensuring a steady flow of vaccines and supplies to all," she said.

"In addition, countries with a sufficient, current supply of manufactured doses should consider donating at least 5 per cent of their available manufactured doses right away, and commit to making further contributions on a continued, rolling basis throughout the year, scaling up their contributions in line with rising supply," she said adding that confirming these dose-sharing commitments now will enhance predictability, accelerate equitable access, and help stabilize the global vaccine market.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear to us all that no one is safe until everyone is safe. But equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is within our grasp. We have proven that the world can rally to do the unthinkable, and we need to do it again. The sooner we do, the sooner our lives, and the lives of our children, will go back to normal."

According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the coronavirus has infected 132,293,566 people and killed 2,871,642 across the world.

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The New Indian Express