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COVID-19 Vaccines | Will support global patent waiver plan proposed by India and South Africa, says China

China also promised to supply 10 million vaccines to COVAX, a global vaccine distribution campaign backed by the WHO.

May 18, 2021 / 09:02 AM IST
India and South Africa called for TRIPS waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines in a communication to the WTO in October 2020 (Representative image: Shutterstock)

India and South Africa called for TRIPS waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines in a communication to the WTO in October 2020 (Representative image: Shutterstock)

China, which is actively pursuing vaccine diplomacy, on May 17 said that it is "supportive" of India and South Africa's proposal for a temporary waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for coronavirus vaccines, asserting that Beijing will back all actions that are conducive to the developing countries' fight against the pandemic.

India and South Africa called for TRIPS waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines in a communication to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020 so that people in developing countries get access to life-saving vaccines and therapeutics as soon as possible.

Since then, the proposal started gathering support even in the United States and European Union.

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Early this month, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala appealed to the member countries to quickly present and negotiate a text that could temporarily ease trade rules that protect COVID-19 vaccine technology, considering the urgency.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"China fully understands and is supportive of the developing world's demand for an IPR waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters here, without directly referring to India and South Africa's proposal.

"As the largest developing country and a responsible member of the international community, China will do all things that are conducive to developing countries' fight against the virus and support all actions that can help developing countries acquire vaccines in an equitable way, Zhao said.

China, which has given emergency approval to five domestically-made vaccines, has recently got approval from the World Health Organization (WHO) for its first vaccine, Sinopharm.

Zhao said China has provided vaccine assistance to over 80 countries and three international organisations and vaccine exports to over 50 countries.

We are also working with over 10 developing countries including Egypt and the UAE on technological transfer and cooperative production to quickly advance large-scale production of vaccines, he said.

Check here for the latest updates on all COVID-19 vaccines

China also promised to supply 10 million vaccines to COVAX, a global vaccine distribution campaign backed by the WHO.

Early this month, more than 100 American lawmakers wrote to US President Joe Biden, urging him to support India's proposal to the WTO to temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics and vaccines.

TRIPS came into effect in January 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property (IP) rights such as copyright, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information or trade secrets.

TRIPS allows countries to negotiate compulsory licences, a flexibility that was reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration. However, compulsory licences must be negotiated by each WTO member country and for each patent or other protection applying to each individual product.

Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan on May 14 said the proposal had received support from several countries.

"I am hopeful that in an early timeframe, some decision will be reached at the WTO...I am hopeful that an early outcome will be achieved on this," he told reporters in New Delhi.

The move would help in scaling up the production of vaccines and other essential products to deal with the coronavirus, he added.

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PTI
first published: May 18, 2021 09:02 am

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