The World Health Organization is moving to revive its intellectual property sharing scheme as vaccine shortages threaten the attempts of the poorest nations to get out of the pandemic and as the patent debate intensifies. .
In a letter published Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada called on member states to engage with vaccine producers to encourage IP sharing and technology transfer through of the scheme.
“The single most important priority of the global community is to stop the pandemic on track, to stop its rapid transmission and to reverse the trend of the global consequence of distress,” they wrote. “We know that this goal is achievable only when everyone, everywhere, can access the health technologies they need for the detection, prevention, treatment, and response of Covid-19.”
The WHO with Costa Rica launched last year C-Tap (the Covid-19 technology access pool) for vaccines, tests and Covid drugs, but the initiative it has not been able to attract enough interest from higher-income nations and the pharmaceutical industry.
In a surprise move this month, the United States offered generic support for a separate vaccine patent waiver. But observers have said the move, while symbolically significant, does little to address the technicalities needed to see it through.
For its part, the pharmaceutical industry has resisted any attempt to get them to share their trade secrets, arguing that the patents and monopolies they create are necessary to protect the risky investments needed to bring drugs to market. Most Covid drugs and almost all Western Covid vaccines have been developed with the help of at least some taxpayer money.
Crucially, C-Tap, which is now also backed by Spain, will rely on the sharing of IP and trade secrets, which offer companies compensation for royalties. It would also use a deployed scheme to manufacture and distribute drugs for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis, and would make poorer nations less dependent on foreign aid and multinational companies.
The WHO estimates that if vaccine producers adhered to the scheme, the world would benefit from a greater availability of vaccines by the end of next year. Today, there is significant inequality in access to vaccines.
As of Monday, the number of doses shipped under the Covax vaccine purchase scheme was 70m – enough for less than 0.5 per cent of the combined population of the 124 countries it serves.
In the short term, the C-Tap scheme will stimulate the manufacture of tests and drugs needed to slow the spread of the contagion and reduce deaths where they are high.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tedros has called for greater sharing of expertise, with the aim of balancing long-term health inequalities.
“It took me 10 years to do it.” [HIV] antiretrovirals available for middle- and low-income countries that needed them most. Then, millions of people were killed, “he told the Financial Times.” We can’t afford to reproduce a similar pool of water. It would be without ethics, but also myopia. “
“Those who don’t contribute to these [global solidarity] efforts will effectively contribute to prolonging the crisis. ”