Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

A WTO waiver on patents won’t help us against covid


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS

Mains level : Paper 2- Option to waiver from IP rights for vaccine production

There has been growing clamour across the world for waiver of intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines under TRIPS. The article suggests alternatives to achieve the desired production of vaccines without setting the precedent for a waiver.

Waiver from TRIPS

  • Last October, India and South Africa moved a motion at the WTO asking its council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to provide a waiver on intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical patents.
  • Many developing countries have since supported the joint move.
  • While most advanced countries, home to the world’s major pharmaceutical companies, have opposed it.
  • Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, along with activist Lori Wallach, penned an opinion piece making a case for such a waiver.

Voluntary licensing

  • Alternative to waiver could be voluntary licensing arrangements between pharmaceutical companies and countries that wish to make vaccine doses for their own use.
  • This is exactly what has occurred in India’s case, with a licensing agreement between AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India.
  • The recent difficulties with this arrangement are a result of India diverting some doses intended for export (or for Covax) to its domestic vaccination drive.
  • But India will soon begin making other important global vaccines under similar licence arrangements, and a waiver would do nothing to speed up this process.

Compulsory licensing

  • In the event that India needs to ramp up production more than is feasible via licences from global manufacturers, there is another alternative available, which is ‘compulsory licensing’.
  • Such an approach would not permit the export of vaccine doses made under a compulsory licence.
  • This approach should be taken by any developing country, if, for some reason, global pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to license a life-saving vaccine for domestic manufacture and distribution in that nation.

Why TRIPS waiver won’t help

  • India’s limiting factors are a shortage of raw materials and low production capacity, neither of which would be cured with the supposed magic bullet of a WTO waiver.
  • Not only would a WTO waiver not do anything to address the real bottlenecks that constrain the global production and distribution of vaccines, it would also set a bad precedent.
  • It is true that governments, including the US and others, have significantly subsidized or incentivized in other ways the research and development activities of private pharmaceutical companies that now hold patents for major covid vaccines.
  • Yet, these governments required the ingenuity of private enterprise to invent these vaccines.

Consider the question “What are the legal provisions to ensure the accessibility of life-saving drugs in the country?”


While it may seem appealing, a WTO waiver on intellectual property protection is an inappropriate priority. It’s a distraction from the heavy lifting needed to create the capacity to fight the scourge of covid.

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