Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus in December 2019, scientists around the world had been working at their full potential to develop a vaccine that could stop the spread of the virus. Presently, many countries around the globe have collectively rolled out more than a dozen vaccines.
If we track the coronavirus vaccinations around the world, we will witness a stark gap between vaccination programs of different countries. Globally about 25.4% of the total population have received their first dose of the vaccine. Also, 3.47 billion dozes have been administered globally. Since the vaccines remain scarce, most countries had to prioritize administering the dosage to those people who were clinically vulnerable. To battle the condition of vaccine shortage and unequal distribution, countries raised their opinions that patent rights should be temporarily removed from drugs and vaccines in connection with covid-19.
According to intellectual property rights, it is the legal right of a creator to protect his/her original work, invention, scientific development, and so on. But looking at the current pandemic situation, every country should have the freedom to manufacture its vaccines. In October 2020, developing countries India and South Africa submitted a joint proposal in this matter asking the WTO to temporarily waive off patent rights from the resources. This proposal was backed by almost 100 other nations. In May 2021, a revised version of the proposal was introduced. It suggested that patent waiver on resources should be in effect for at least three years starting from the date of the WTO decision. A counter-proposal by the European Union was also raised in this matter. It implied raising vaccine production via licensing and eliminating export restrictions. Considering all the proposals, members of the WTO have now started their negotiations on the patent waivers for drugs, vaccines, and devices in connection with covid-19. While the decision is still awaited and is expected to come out by the 21st or 22nd of July 2021, it is important to know that patents aren’t the only bottlenecks as far as vaccine equity is concerned.
Since equitable vaccine distribution is the key to end the current pandemic, it is important to agree with the patent waiver. But this isn't the only step to achieve a vaccine that is affordable and accessible to all. The production of vaccines is a complicated process. Even if the patents are temporarily waived, innovator companies are not obligated in any way to share their technical knowledge. Since many developing countries do not have proper infrastructure, technical know-how, availability of raw materials, and so on, it poses an obstacle in vaccine production. Therefore, the need for global collaboration to ensures equitable access as well as distribution of resources is necessary.
The above strategies aim to ensure free and impartial access to vaccines worldwide. Along with these proposals, countries have portrayed their expressions of interest in joining the COVAX facility. COVAX is co-led by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), and World Health Organization (WHO). It aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and guarantees fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
Under this initiative, about 75 countries would manufacture vaccines from their budget and partner with up to 90 low-income countries. Together, this group will represent 60 percent of the world's population. It will speed up the availability of safe and effective vaccines through early investments in manufacturing capacity. The early level of interest exhibited by nations is an example of the shared goals of people around the globe.
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