The pandemic is not a opposition between companies and will not end without more-equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The world wants around 11B doses of COVID-19 vaccine to immunize 70 percent of the world’s population, assuming two doses per person. As of last month, orders had been confirmed for 8.6B doses, a remarkable attainment. But some 6B of these will go to above- and upper, middle, income countries. Poorer and Needful nations which account for 80 percent of the world’s population, so far have access to less than one third of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
One thing for this variation is that rich countries have been able to place valuable advance orders with the relatively small group of companies that are making COVID-19 vaccines, most of which are based in richer countries. Unless manufacturing and supply can be distributed more evenly, researchers forecast that it will be at least another 2 years before a significant proportion of people in the poorer income countries are vaccinated.
This is why on every side 100 countries, show by India and South Africa, are asking fellow World Trade Organization members to agree a time-limited lifting of COVID-19 related intellectual-property (Intellectual Property) rights. The main COVID-19 vaccine suppliers, they claim, should share their knowledge so that more countries can start producing COVID-19 vaccines for their own populations and for the poorer income nations.
This scheme needs to be considered seriously because a temporary Intellectual Property waiver could have a role in accelerating the end of the pandemic. It would also send a powerful message from richer countries and pharmaceutical companies that they are willing to forgo some profit for the greater good. The campaign for a temporary IP waiver is called the People’s COVID-19 Vaccine and is backed by non-governmental organizations, as well as the United Nations’ HIV/AIDS agency, UNAIDS. Its proponents point out that many companies have already benefited from billions of $ (Dollars) in public funding, through both research and development and advance purchase agreements. And that once the pandemic is over, Intellectual Property protections would be restored.
But the pharmaceutical companies, richer nations and some researchers argue that temporary relief from patents won’t necessarily speed up manufacturing or supply. They say it isn’t clear whether the world has any spare manufacturing capacity. Even if patents did not apply, securing all the vaccine components, setting up factories, training people and passing relevant laws all essential to vaccine delivery could take more than a year.
An alternative to the lifting of (Intellectual Property), they say, is for companies to increase the licensing of their product designs in exchange for payment. This would allow vaccines to be made by many more companies. In addition, the World Health Organization is setting up a facility for companies to share their vaccine technology, skills and other know how.
Possibly the strongest argument for a temporary waiver is that patents were never designed for use during global emergencies such as wars or pandemics. A patent rewards inventors by protecting their inventions from unfair competition for a limited time. The key word here is ‘competition’. A pandemic is not a competition between companies, but a race between humanity and a virus. Instead of competing, countries and companies need to do all they can to cooperate to bring the pandemic to an end.
The reality that the current (United State) administration is now considering the merits of an IP waiver is important, and other countries should do the same. It might not be the best or the only way to rapidly expand vaccine supply, but it does represent an important principle. There are times when competition helps research and innovation; there are also times when it needs to be set aside for the greater good.