The recent controversy of TRIPS waiver on Covid Products

Covid vaccine injections

Recently India and South Africa have called on WTO for the TRIPS waiver on Covid products including vaccines, medicines, diagnostic kits and protective kits. If the countries agree to grant the waiver, other countries will be able to produce the same vaccines without worrying about intellectual property right.

What is TRIPS?

TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement is a Trade-Related Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights signed by members of the WTO and came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property rights.

From 164 members countries of WTO, 120 nations have supported the proposal but the negotiations are yet to begin on the matter.

The USA after much pressure worldwide has finally agreed to support the proposal of waiver. Whereas, the controversial statement of Bill Gates is still the news headline. As Bill Gates said,

There’s only so many vaccine factories in the world, and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines…Moving a vaccine, say, from a [Johnson & Johnson] factory into a factory in India, it’s novel, it’s only because of our grants and expertise that can happen at all.

This idea of not sharing the vaccine is being highly criticised even by supporters of his philanthropic efforts.

The General Council of WTO is going to meet on 5th-6th May where this issue is also an agenda of the meeting. There have been several rounds of formal and informal meetings on this so far.

German chancellor Angela Merkel

Even after huge support for the initiative, German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes that suspending IPR for the covid vaccine is going to impact the morale of companies who have taken a risk in order to create those vaccines. This may lead to serious repercussions in future.

Though this gives rise to the German dichotomy where a few days ago they quoted,

Europe allowed India to become the world's pharmacy

Russia has supported the move, the European Union (EU) has said it is “ready to discuss” the matter.

TRIPS waiver will be just the beginning of a long process

Even after the waiver is granted the manufacturing still remains a major issue. Though India is having the capacity to generate a number of vaccines on a daily basis, it is still not enough to tackle the issue at hand. Waiving off intellectual property right on Covid products does not mean that the companies need to provide their process of making the vaccine. It just means that the companies will not be able to sue you for using their formula. The question of whether Indian and South African companies will be able to get the process out on their own still remains.

What happens if the TRIPS waiver comes into effect

If all countries agree to the temporary TRIPS waiver on Covid products, several countries including India can start manufacturing the bouquet of Covid-19 vaccines instead of waiting for the pharma giants to allow domestic production. India will be allowed to manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccines legally earlier which was only allowed to Pfizer. Even Indian company made vaccine formulas such as Covaxin by Bharat Biotech will be available to companies worldwide.

Even if we clear all the hurdles and our companies reach the process of creating those vaccines we still need to understand that the process of creating a vaccine in a foreign country was according to the technology available in those countries. It is going to be a major challenge to replicate the idea without technology transfer and expert guidance.

This is a step in the right direction but without logistical assistance, it is going to be a much difficult task to maintain the quality standards.

Last October, Moderna had announced that it will not enforce Covid-related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.