Health advocates bat to waive patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines, drugs

Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 26 2021 08:30 AM | Updated as of Nov 28 2021 11:53 PM

Medical staff of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose on November 17, 2021. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File
Medical staff of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose on November 17, 2021. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Patent protection should be waived for vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tools for COVID-19 so that poorer countries can have better access to these, health advocates in the Philippines said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, Asia Pacific Research Network, Ibon International, along with other groups discussed the impact of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on the distribution of vaccines, medicines, and other diagnostic tools to prevent, contain, or treat COVID-19 amid the pandemic.

"TRIPS really put health in the framework of trade rather than in the framework of service. And this is why we are calling out the World Health Organization on why it allowed WTO to dominate the issue of health as an issue of trade," said Dr. Edelina Dela Paz, chairperson of Health Alliance for Democracy and national coordinator for Peoples Health Movement Philippines. 


In October 2020, South African and Indian delegations pushed for a global waiver on patent protections, which would allow other countries to make their own versions of vaccines and scale up production, which they say is necessary to win the race against time with the fast-mutating coronavirus. 

If granted, the intellectual property protections, including the obligations on copyright and related rights, industrial designs, patents, and the protection of undisclosed information, which are guarded by the WTO’s TRIPS agreement, will be waived for at least three years.

According to those proponents of the move, the act can pave way for more affordable vaccines, medicines, as well as scale up and speed up the production of other essential medical diagnostics and products.

Advocates like Dela Paz, also argued the waiver could be a "first step" in distributing vaccines equally to various countries, despite their economic status. 

"The waiver can stimulate innovation because many other companies would any try to look at and develop newer, improved COVID-19 medicines packs and some essential equipment, and not be tied up by the monopoly of Big Pharma," Dela Paz explained.

"It will also lower the cost of these products... and there will be a rapid scaling up of manufacturers worldwide," she added. 


Over a year since the proposal was tabled and despite the support of more than 100 countries, the majority of the jabs against COVID-19 were administered to individuals from high- and upper-middle-income countries, since the proposed waiver continues to languish as there are still countries and with major pharma companies still opposing the waiver. 

"Patents do not help the poor at all. This is an issue of service and health, not an issue of trade and profit. People's welfare must be prioritized," Dela Paz added.

According to Dela Paz, governments must be pressured to support the waiver for intellectual property rights under the agreement on trade related aspects of intellectual property rights. 

She said the Philippine government has yet to express an explicit stance on its position regarding the TRIPS waiver, despite the benefits it could bring to the country's struggling healthcare sector. 

Dela Paz pointed out that "the COVID 19 pandemic revealed a gaping weakness in the Philippine healthcare system that is commercialized and privatized."

"Many Filipinos have been struggling to attain even the most basic of health services and Filipinos still die of preventable incurable diseases. So it's not all COVID-19 that is scaring the Filipinos. We are being killed also by infectious diseases because antibiotics, the new ones especially, are very expensive because they're still covered by patents," she stated.

An analysis from the Economist Intelligence Unit predicted that most poor countries will not achieve mass immunization against COVID-19 until 2024, while some may never even get there. This was in stark contrast with countries such as the UK, US, and those in the EU, which are forecast to achieve “widespread vaccination coverage” as this year.


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