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COVID-19 vaccine: WHO backs India, South Africa's proposal to WTO, calls for easing of intellectual property rules

Backing India, South Africa's proposal to WTO, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said ending a pandemic starts with collaboration.

October 19, 2020 / 10:40 AM IST

The World Health Organization (WHO) has backed India and South Africa's joint proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines. Both had on October 2 submitted a communication to the WTO seeking a waiver from intellectual property obligations under the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement “until widespread vaccination is in place globally".

Backing the proposal, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said ending a pandemic starts with collaboration.

"WHO welcomes South Africa and India’s recent proposal to WTO to ease international and intellectual property agreements on COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests in order to make the tools available to all who need them at an affordable cost," Ghebreyesus tweeted.

"WHO launched the covid-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP) in May, inviting countries to share data, knowledge and intellectual property on vital, life-saving health products in the fight against the coronavirus," Ghebreyesus added.

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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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Through the joint communique, India and South Africa urged WTO to waiver intellectual property obligations for the member countries to ensure that these do not create barriers to timely access of crucial medicines and vaccines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Internationally, there is an urgent call for global solidarity, and the unhindered global sharing of technology and know-how in order that rapid responses for the handling of COVID-19 can be put in place on a real-time basis,” the letter read.

Read: India, South Africa bat for IP obligations waiver from WTO for medical products amid COVID-19

This assumes significance as several countries, including Britain, France, Germany and the US have ordered hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine candidates even before clinical trials have shown they are effective, while porer countries, with economies shattered by the pandemic, are not in a position to place such bets.

The proposal discussed at the TRIPS Council meeting on 15-16 October where developed countries, including the US, European Union, Canada, Japan, UK, Australia and Switzerland, rejected the joint proposal, while African group countries, least developed countries, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal among other countries supported the proposal, as per a LiveMint report.

China, Turkey, Philippines, Colombia sought more information on it. The discussion is likely to be taken up again before the year-end, the report said.

Click here for Moneycontrol's full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak
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first published: Oct 19, 2020 09:15 am

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