Patenting Vaccines During Pandemic
A patent is an ultimate right given to the owner of the property to reserve the owner of its rights to the invention for a period of time. This invention can be in any field starting from designs, medicine, machines, etc. Patent during the pandemic has raised many eyebrows when some countries proposed World Trade Organization waive of intellectual property rights of drugs related to the Covid-19 vaccine. The person holding the patent right can hold the price etc.
PATENT WAIVER AMID PANDEMIC
The patent to vaccines prevents competitors to prevent to copy the vaccine formula. Once a drug/ vaccine is passed by the respective country the company is awarded a patent for 20 years which depends on the country to country. The company after gaining the patent keeps changing and improving its formula and further gets it patented to use it for more and more years. Before a drug/vaccine is passed it goes under various laboratory test, animal test and human tests and all these cost billions that means from the discovery to approval a lot of effort along with money is spent and thus the company researching on look for safety and returns in form of incentives. Since the year 2020, the pandemic has worsened the situation of several countries and many of them have faced the worst scenario during a pandemic. The United States is first on the series while Indian is in the second position with a spiking death scenario during the second wave. There is no specific drug or treatment which can cure or is efficiently able to cure and deal with Covid-19 and the only effective remedy one could take is to take precautions and vaccination in order to generate antibodies against the virus.
Though few countries have been successfully able to produce vaccines for Covid-19 many countries have no access to these vaccines due to their considerable financial status. The UNICEF has released its data according to which around 86% of vaccines have been given to richer and middle-income countries while there are only 1% of the poor country who have received the doses of the vaccine. These countries who have received only 1% of the vaccine are those with average health care infrastructure and are not sufficient enough to deal with the virus still these countries have not been taken into consideration. Further allegations of richer countries hoarding vaccines are also floating a lot raising questions as to what will be the fate of the economically weaker countries who are dealing with the worst condition and have restricted access to vacancies.
In October 2020 Indian and South Africa presented a proposal to World Trade Organization requesting for waiver of patent rights on the formulation of the vaccine. The purpose of this proposal was that country like India will be able to formulate their own vaccines in India and this would be comparatively more efficient as acquiring drug for such a large population without majorly affecting the finances and amid pandemic is not easy further the waiver of the patent will not only help India but many other countries who are not able to purchase vaccines at a price as decided by the companies.
The ability to fight pandemics is gradually dependent on the pharmaceutical sector and scarcity of vaccines will end up the situation in the worst scenario. The proposal of Indian and South Africa was originally to cover patents, copyrights, industrial designs on vaccines and medicines.
USA and PHARMA COMPANIES RESISTING
Initially, the pharmaceutical companies resisted and opposed the petition stating that pharmaceutical companies are taking much risk while making these life-saving drugs and incentives for such hard work. Also, the pharmaceutical companies can charge as and how they want. The US initially opposed the proposal of India and Africa on the grounds that not only there is a lot of investments but there are a huge amount of startup companies that are dependent upon the investors and the incentive they generate from selling these vaccines across the globe they will use it for their future development. And though initially, the USA was not standing in front of the controversy later “narrow waiver” of intellectual property was given. Experts believe that the world is safe if everybody is safe and even if a handful are left there can be new variants which could develop certainly and thus considering this the USA supported the proposal. Further, Compulsory Licenses are available which can facilitate the exports and incentives as demanded by the companies.
Even if the waiver on the patent will disclose the recipes of the vaccines there are various other subjects that will hinder the production of the vaccine for example; Pfizer Company uses mRNA technology for the production of their vaccine. Though the company will be bound to disclose the recipe of the vaccine they are not bound to disclose the technology used in the formation of the mRNA and the country that want to make this vaccine will have to learn the technique of making mRNA.
The World Trade Organization 167 members out of which the US and France have supported the cause but still, the decision of the rest of the members have their own opinion. If there is any denial from even one country the entire proposal will be rejected. Where some countries have changed their views from disagreement to agreement like the US, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Whereas in the WTO meeting Brazil raised its concern over the fact that of the protection over patent is raised it could lead to interfering with Brazil’s purchase of vaccine from the pharmaceutical companies thus creating another concern.
Germany has opposed the decision of removing protection of patent stating that the protection of intellectual protection the source of innovation and should be protected to remain so in the future as well. Companies like Johnson&Johnson. Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are some of the manufactures of vaccines. Even if all the companies agree to disclose their recipe for vaccines the fact that beyond the ingredients of the recipe there is a technology and it is not as easy as to cook food. Proper technology appliances apparatus along with the knowledge of the technique are key features. Even though India is trying to get its own vaccine soon, meanwhile other poor and developing nations require moral support from other nations in form of sharing vaccine recipes to technological assistance.