Health group pushes for global patent waiver for quick access to COVID-19 vaccines

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 09 2021 11:41 AM

Workers receive their first Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine shot in a symbolic vaccination at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City on June 7, 2021, marking the start of vaccinations of people under the A4 category. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A health advocacy group is pushing for a waiver of vaccine patents in hopes of jumpstarting production of COVID-19 jabs in the country amid the still raging pandemic.

Temporary exemption from certain obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) will allow the Philippines easier access to the anti-virus shots, said Dr. Joshua San Pedro, co-convenor of the Coalition for People's Right to Health.

"Definitely, the TRIPS waiver is not a magic wand that suddenly will increase the global supply, but it's a first step. It's going to encourage a lot of local manufacturers to finally have access to such technologies," he told ANC.

"A lot of the problems in manufacturing in a lot of countries, including the Philippines, is also marred by intellectual property barriers. This is something we can overcome through this TRIPS waiver."

Last year, a global waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines proposed by South Africa and India was filed at the World Trade Organization to scale up vaccine production and delivery to poorer countries.

The waiver would also cover "industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information," and would last "until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world's population has developed immunity."

According to the World Health Organization, poorer countries that make up half the world's population have received just 17 percent of COVID-19 vaccine doses. 

More than 80 percent of COVID-19 vaccines have gone to rich countries, San Pedro said.

"We see here a lot of pharmaceutical drugs especially during this pandemic are increasingly out of reach by a lot of poor countries who can't afford the innovator drugs," he said.

"This is something that has been going on for some time and because of this COVID pandemic, it has even worsened... the inequity that the poor countries have in terms of access to health care."

 

San Pedro lamented that the Philippine government had been "relatively silent" even as vaccination centers have closed down due to lack of supply.

"If the Philippines is able to push for this TRIPS waiver, there is more incentive for local production. There is more incentive for us to revive our national industrialization for pharmaceutical sector," he said.

He later added, "We're just accepting the fact that 80 percent of the global vaccines have been purchased by rich countries and yet we are not questioning why that is."

The Philippines has been using UK's AstraZeneca, American brand Pfizer, China's Sinovac, and Russia's Sputnik V in its inoculation program against COVID-19.

As of June 7, the country has administered over 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with only 1.6 million people fully vaccinated by far. It aims to inoculate at least 58 million Filipinos by yearend to achieve herd immunity. - With a report from Agence France-Presse