Wemos warmly welcomes the US government’s proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a temporary waiver of patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. It is now up to the Netherlands and the European Union (EU) to follow suit. This patent waiver – which would temporarily lift patent protections – will give all pharmaceutical companies the right to also produce vaccines. This could be a breakthrough for global access to these vaccines.
Maximising production capacity
Currently, only a few companies are producing Covid-19 vaccines – not nearly enough for the entire world. Because high-income countries have bought up the majority of the vaccines, people in low- and middle-income countries will probably have to wait for years to come to get vaccinated. Not only will this result in prolonged suffering and economic damage, but it also carries the risks of new mutations, potentially making current vaccines less effective.
The solution to this lies in maximising vaccine production capacity as quickly as possible. All available, certified factories in the world should be running right now to produce enough vaccines for everyone. To do this, vaccine producers would need to share their patents and knowledge with other manufacturers. To this day, they have done this to an insufficient extent on a voluntary basis. However, in exceptional circumstances, WTO can give national governments permission to temporarily deactivate patent protections.
The US pushes for this permission regarding the vaccines. India and South Africa have proposed for waiving patents before, but for all Covid-19 products, including vaccines as well as tests and medicines. Over 100 other countries support this proposal.
Besides patents, sharing of knowledge is essential
Although lifting patent protections is an important step in the right direction, it’s not yet enough to maximise vaccine production capacity. Vaccine manufacturers cannot produce Covid-19 vaccines with patents alone: they will also need the knowledge necessary (e.g. recipes, test data, technical instructions) to produce these vaccines. Therefore, besides lifting patent protections, sharing knowledge is the next essential step to take by governments and pharmaceutical companies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up a pool – the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) – to share knowledge on the production of Covid-19 vaccines. However, to this day, no pharmaceutical company has used this pool. After the patent protections have been lifted, it is of the utmost importance that vaccine manufacturers start making use of C-TAP.
Ending the pandemic
Wemos calls on the Dutch government to push within the EU for support of the WTO’s temporary patent waiver, following the example of the US. In addition, it must push for sharing knowledge on vaccine production. This is how the pandemic can be brought to an end as quickly as possible.
“Only when all countries worldwide have access to the vaccines, we’ll be able to tackle the pandemic”, says our global health advocate Tom Buis in the Dutch news programme RTL Nieuws on May 6th 2021.