Concretely, this derogation will allow “eligible” developing countries to be able to produce vaccines, including using messenger RNA technology, without having the authorization of the initial discoverer laboratory.
Still unequal access to vaccines
This agreement had been demanded since the start of the pandemic by NGOs and countries such as South Africa and India, in the face of vaccine inequality. According to the WHO, if 60% of the world’s population has received two doses, the situation remains very inequitable, with only 17% vaccinated in Libya, 8% in Nigeria or even less than 5% in Cameroon.
For Tendayi Achiume, UN special rapporteur on discrimination, “the current status quo amounts to a system of” vaccine apartheid “.
This is the first time that a temporary lifting of patents has been decided by the WTO. In 2001, the organization had set up a mechanism of compulsory license on triple therapy treatments against HIV, that is to say patent licenses without the agreement of the patent holder. This had made it possible to reduce the price for developing countries, but with difficulty in convincing the laboratories.
Compared to these compulsory licenses, the new WTO agreement “is a step forward”, judge François Pochart, of the firm August Debouzy, specialist in patent issues. “States can decide on their own without having to make a request. The real novelty is that this derogation also allows the country which will produce the vaccine to export to other markets, to another eligible member, and not only for its country, ”he adds.
The labs not convinced
The pharmaceutical industry remains hostile to the measure, ineffective according to it, in particular because the current production of vaccines, very important, is enough. By mid-June, nearly 14 billion doses had been produced worldwide, according to the scientific data analysis company Aifinity. Producers, such as the gigantic Indian manufacturer Serum Institute of India, have even decided to stop production due to lack of demand.
The biggest driver of unequal access to vaccines “is not intellectual property, but trade. This has not been properly dealt with by the WTO”, argues Thomas Cueni, head of the International Federation of the Pharmaceutical Industry (Ifpma). For months, some producing countries have indeed blocked the export of vaccines, in the name of health sovereignty.
“Intellectual property has proven to be fundamental in the response to the pandemic (…) Questioning it weakens the incentive to innovate”, reacted the French Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies (Leem). She even believes that “the questioning of intellectual protection by patents jeopardizes global supplies” by hindering production and collaborations in particular.
Without forgetting the issues of logistics and access to care for the most disadvantaged populations in the world. Because even with vaccines, it is still necessary to be able to distribute them to the populations.
For their part, the countries and NGOs that have campaigned for more equality are disappointed. “This does not correspond to the initial request”, judge Jérôme Martin, co-founder of the Observatory of the transparency of drug policies, who deplores that the derogation only concerns developing countries.
A few days ago, Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal said he did not believe that this agreement would allow any new factories to be created. “It’s just too late,” he said.
In addition, the agreement at the WTO does not concern costly treatments against Covid, for which the organization still has six months to decide. “We are disappointed that a real derogation from intellectual property (…) covering all Covid-19 medical tools and including all countries, could not be agreed”, thus regretted the Dr. Christos Christou, president of MSF International.