Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What the easing of IP norms on Covid vaccines means for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS

Mains level : Paper 2- What IP waiver for Covid vaccine mean to India

Background of waiver proposal

  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced its support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Following the onset of the pandemic, the World Health Organisation proposed a COVID-technology access pool as a knowledge sharing initiative to rapidly scale up vaccine output around the world.
  • As vaccine research progressed last year, wealthy and advanced countries, placed huge advance purchase orders for vaccines.
  • This meant that smaller, developing countries would take longer to get vaccines and find resources to pay for them.
  • In October 2020, India and South Africa floated a proposal at the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council to waive certain provisions of the WTO’s TRIPS pact till the pandemic subsides.
  • The proposal envisaged facilitating wider access to technologies necessary for the production of vaccines and medicines.
  • While a majority of the least developed countries backed the proposal, some like China, Turkey and Thailand sought more clarity.
  • However, the proposal was nixed with the E.U., the U.S., Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.K. rejecting it outright, along with Brazil.
  • Among other things, the argument was that such waivers could dampen innovation and research in areas such as pharmaceuticals and diagnostic technologies.

What next

  • The WTO’s TRIPS Council is tentatively expected to hold a meeting on the waiver proposal again later this month.
  • If and when an agreement is reached here, the WTO’s Ministerial Council will also have to sign off.
  • Since WTO decisions are based on consensus, all 164 members need to agree on every single aspect of the negotiated waivers and conditions attached.

Way forward for India

  • The Centre can take two steps immediately in consonance with its stance at the WTO, following the U.S.’ statement of support.
  • The Union government must issue notification under Sections 92 and 100 of the Patents Act to freely licence all patents necessary for vaccine and drug production to treat COVID-19.
  • Issues of the amount of royalties can be decided in due course as laid out in the Patents Act, but that should not come in the way of immediate licensing by the government.
  • The government need to provide full support to companies to scale up vaccine production.
  • Indian industry has a well-respected expertise and capability to rapidly manufacture raw materials, consumables and equipment necessary to produce drugs, vaccines, medical devices and equipment if Intellectual Property barriers are removed.

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BACK2BASICS

  • COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) will compile, in one place, pledges of commitment made under the Solidarity Call to Action to voluntarily share COVID-19 health technology-related knowledge, intellectual property and data. C-TAP works through its implementing partners, the Medicines Patent Pool, Open COVID Pledge, UN Technology Bank-hosted Technology Access Partnership and Unitaid to facilitate timely, equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 health technologies.

Understand how the story has progressed:

India seeks TRIPS waiver for Vaccines

How IPR served as barrier to the right to access healthcare

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