Covid-19 Vaccine Inequity: Should patents be waived?

In the absence of treatment, mass vaccination is currently highly recognized as the most effective way to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, not all countries have access to these vaccines. 

More than a year since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, by the World Health Organisation, the whole globe is still fighting against this illness. There is a lot of debate whether the new coronavirus patents should be waved

Property rights drive prices and can discriminate against vaccine access. Therefore, low-income countries are not only not able to get the vaccine but also to produce doses themselves. According to the article: The fight to manufacture COVID vaccines in lower-income countries from Nature’s website, a weekly science, and technology international journal. Less than 1% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated, and just 10% are in lower-middle-income countries, compared with more than half in high-income countries.

Members of the People’s Vaccine Campaign of South Africa (PVC-SA) protest outside the Johnson & Johnson offices in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2021. EFE/EPA/NIC BOTHMA

People from all around the world are taking action to lift patents. For instance, in the case of India and South Africa, they both made a formal request to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on October 22, 2020, to accelerate the efforts, to prevent and treat the pandemic, but especially to guarantee that developing countries are not left behind. The leader of the access campaign in South Asia for international aid group Doctors Without Borders, Leena Menghaney claims, it is: 

“Crucial that other member governments of the WTO support this, as we need to ensure that vaccines, drugs, and other medical tools needed for COVID-19 can be scaled up by countries and their manufacturers without facing protracted negotiations for licenses.”

Leena Menghaney

The patent waiver will indeed, enhance global access to affordable coronavirus vaccines. What is more, it could also incentivize the transfer of production technology to developing countries and allow them to have autonomy.

A woman, who came to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, stands in front of a closed gate of a vaccination center which was closed due to the unavailability of the supply of the vaccine, in Mumbai, India. Image: Reuters/ Francis Mascarenhas

Some are in favor of the vaccine patent waiver, in the article Vaccination : Faut-il suspendre les brevets ? from the INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) Maurice Casser claims that patent waiver will not only reduce the vaccine price but also strengthen vaccine technologies worldwide.

Waving patents would not only lower vaccine prices, but also strengthen vaccine technology globally

Maurice Casser

On the other hand, Matthieu Collin presents another point of view. He explains that the patent system makes it possible to promote research. It also benefits academic laboratories, such as the INSERM, which files numerous patents thanks to the INSERM Transfert.

The patent system makes it possible to promote research. It also benefits academic laboratories, such as those of Inserm, which files numerous patents thanks to the action of Inserm Transfert.

Matthieu Collin

He also explains that in the case of Covid vaccines, the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, which holds some key patents on messenger RNA vaccine technology, will be able to reinvest in its research. He adds that the situation has shown that it is necessary to find a certain balance between public interest and private interest.

Indeed, the world is divided. We should be mindful, it is about society’s health, not only an economic, research, or technology issue. The coronavirus pandemic is still with us. Therefore, an agreement must be reached as soon as possible.


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