India will lead demands for an intellectual property rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and supplies at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting next week, two government officials said.
A year after India and South Africa introduced a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies at the WTO, negotiations are deadlocked in the face of opposition from some developed countries.
Shyamal Misra, a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce, said India would not just be speaking for itself at the WTO ministerial conference in Geneva starting on Nov. 30, but for other developing countries with which it is working closely.
"We expect that the interests of developing countries are not compromised," Misra told an event late on Thursday to discuss India’s strategy.
India has alleged that developed countries, led by the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, were "preventing access to vaccines for poor countries," leading to loss of lives.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
Switzerland’s ambassador to the WTO Didier Chambovey said on Thursday the country was open to compromise but remained opposed to a full waiver.
WTO members at a meeting of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) last week, agreed to continue negotiations until the start of the ministerial conference to seek a solution.
Another senior government official, who is accompanying commerce minister Piyush Goyal at the meeting, told Reuters on Friday that India would push for a fair and equitable deal.
The developed countries need to understand that for the benefit of a few pharmaceutical companies they cannot put the lives of people in developing countries at risk, he said.
"All eyes are looking for a positive outcome," Sachin Chaturvedi, a government adviser and head of Delhi-based think-tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said.Citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with G20 leaders last month, he said India would be producing over five billion doses of COVID vaccines for the country and the world by the end of 2022.