Sunday, May 15

Presidential 2022. Vaccines against Covid-19: the impossible lifting of patents?

The subject has stalled for more than a year, but it is back on the table in favor of the French presidential election. Four candidates called on Emmanuel Macron this Friday to act in favor of the lifting of patents on vaccines against Covid-19.

“To meet global needs” and “control the pandemic”, “the necessary strategy is to allow low and middle income countries which have the possibility to produce vaccines against Covid-19”, write Jean- Luc Mélenchon (LFI), Yannick Jadot (EELV), Anne Hidalgo (PS) and Philippe Poutou (NPA), alongside the two co-founders of the Observatory for transparency in drug policies (OTMeds).

Why is it blocking?

This request is not new. India and South Africa were the first to formulate it, in October 2020, whether it concerns vaccine patents or drug patents. More than a hundred states, which also wish to make the vaccine a common good, are supporting them.

But despite this global momentum, the status quo remains. The decision rests with the World Trade Organization (WTO). It is indeed a question of derogating from the rules of intellectual property rights which affect trade, to suspend the monopolies conferred by patents, for a period of 20 years. However, this derogation must be accepted unanimously by … the 164 member countries. And some strongly oppose it, such as the UK, Japan, Canada and Germany, the latter bringing in its wake a wave of skepticism in the European Union.

For them, this lifting of patents would undermine pharmaceutical innovation. They also believe that the lack of infrastructure in developing countries would not allow them to produce vaccines anyway. And why lift patents when developed countries send doses to countries in need? This last argument is, however, strained by the numbers. According to Our World in Data, which depends on Johns Hopkins University in the United States, only 9.5% of populations in low-income countries have received at least one dose … A particularly marked situation in Africa. In Ethiopia, for example, 6.59% of the population is partially vaccinated and 1.35% is completely. In Mali, 1.91% is partially and 2.62% is completely.

What role can Emmanuel Macron play?

Last May, the US president officially supported the lifting of patents. A position taken by the French Head of State and other world political leaders. But, since, silence. Emmanuel Macron has even prioritized donation of vaccines to poor countries several times. What he is criticized today by his four potential future opponents in the presidential election.

In their letter, they therefore ask for “the urgent organization of a ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO)” to “allow the lifting of patents and access to vaccines”, in particular for the poorest countries. A meeting on this subject was scheduled from November 30 to December 3 in Geneva. But it was canceled due to the meteoric arrival of Omicron. Ironically, those who argue for the lifting of patents put forward the protection against the appearance of new variants …

These left-wing candidates also urge Emmanuel Macron to “express publicly and work in favor of the lifting of patents”, while France has just taken the rotating presidency of the EU.

Calls from the foot to Germany

Leader of the skeptics, could Germany be convinced? In any case, calls are increasing in the direction of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s new coalition. And no later than this Friday. In a tribune in the world, the 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, asks Germany to “join the global movement to make vaccines against Covid-19 accessible to all as common goods”.

This is a global public health imperative

Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics

In this forum, another head of state is questioned: “This also applies to the French president […] He should take advantage of the French presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022 to secure broad EU support for this derogation. “

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