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Battle for Lifting of Patents on COVID-19 Vaccines

Jan. 24 , 2021 (EIRNS)—In October 2020, the Indian and South African governments, along with eight other countries appealed to the World Trade Organization to encourage all countries to lift enforcement of any patents or other intellectual property rights (IP) that are related to COVID-19 diagnostics, drugs and vaccines for the duration of the pandemic. If some of the requirements of international trade agreements were waived, this would allow generic manufacturers to immediately make more affordable versions of these products. This call was supported by the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

As of Jan. 20, 2021, the WTO has still delayed on making a decision, with wealthier countries, such as France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. opposing the IP waiver, since they’ve already been cutting deals with the big drug producers, effectively monopolizing the access to the life-saving vaccines.

The Times of India reported,

“The proposal seeking waiver of intellectual property (IP) on COVID-19 drugs and vaccines has huge implications for developing countries which are finding it tough to access life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. Rich countries have cut huge deals ... posing a serious risk to equitable access for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, with the world ‘on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,’ ”

quoting WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

South Africa is getting stuck with paying the Serum Institute of India  $5.25 per dose for 1.5 million shots of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, more than double the price paid by the European Union ($2.50). AstraZeneca’s vaccine is considered to be preferable for African countries, since it doesn’t have to be stored at ultra-low temperatures like other vaccines, which are unavailable to these nations, due to the lack of modern infrastructure.

In related news, in an example which embodies the issue at stake, Oxford University had promised in Spring 2020 to donate the rights of its promising COVID-19 vaccine to any drug-maker, only to later sell it to AstraZeneca, making millions of dollars in the deal. Other companies are characterized by hoarding patents, collecting billions in government grants and charging exorbitant prices for any vaccine. Count Dracula would be proud.

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