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WTO decides to hold text-based negotiations on India's global vaccine waiver proposal

Developed nations like the EU, Australia and Singapore had initially refused to discuss India's revised proposal. The latest decision open the door for larger, more in-depth text based negotiation between all members. Next meeting on 17 June as India pushes for late-July deadline.

June 10, 2021 / 09:58 AM IST
World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva (Photo : Reuters)

World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva (Photo : Reuters)

India's proposal to waive Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and related health technology has been cleared for 'text-based discussions' at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The WTO council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on June 9 passed the proposal, thereby opening it up to further debate by all members. India’s updated draft of its proposed IPR waiver, sponsored by 62 nations, was submitted to the WTO on May 21 and discussed by the TRIPS council on May 30.

While India had the unofficial backing of nearly 120 countries, major global powers such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore had mentioned grave discomfort at a 'potential blanket suspension of the terms of the TRIPS agreement'.

As a result, a special 2-day meeting was held on June 8-9 to again discuss the issue which the latest decision has been taken unanimously, an official said terming it a 'breakthrough'.

Moneycontrol had earlier reported that India's updated proposal focussed on an at least three-year long waiver of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) globally for COVID-19 vaccines.  However, the issue had come to a head over the proposal also suggesting that the waiver also include requisite drugs, medical equipment and all health technologies necessary for the prevention of COVID-19.

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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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Deadline July

WTO's complicated trade policy negotiation rules do not specify no deadlines for such talks, which have earlier gone on for lengthy bouts of time. However, India has suggested end of July as the deadline to conclude negotiations.

"This agenda was discussed over two days, total 48 members including EU took the floor. At the end, chair concluded that there is no objection from any member to start text based negotiations. He will start consultation and a plenary meeting has called on 17 June to move forward," a senior official said.

The chair has suggested to reach conclusion by 21 July when General Council is scheduled to meet and in the meantime, we will engage with all members on line by line text negotiations, he added.

The proposal

The proposal aims to boost the availability of jabs worldwide as vaccines, medicines and testing technology for COVID-19 can be easily shared without falling foul of patent laws.

New Delhi had specifically suggested a waiver from the implementation, application, and enforcement of Sections 1, 4, 5, and 7 of Part II of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to prevention, containment, or treatment of COVID-19.

Coming into effect on January 1, 1995, the TRIPS agreement is till date the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property and a core WTO document.

Moneycontrol had earlier reported how the waiver could cut down the end date of the pandemic.
Subhayan Chakraborty
first published: Jun 9, 2021 06:17 pm

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