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Joe Biden urged to stop blocking of COVID-19 WTO waiver suggested by India and South Africa

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests, and technologies used to produce them.

March 02, 2021 / 09:30 AM IST
Source: AP

Source: AP

Coming out in support of India and South Africa, hundreds of American civil society organisations and three top lawmakers have urged US President Joe Biden to not block the waiver to COVID-19 vaccines at the WTO, asserting that it will boost the treatment of coronavirus patients worldwide.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests, and technologies used to produce them.

While there is production capacity in every region, the WTO rules block the timely and unfettered access to the formulas and technology needed to boost manufacturing. Unless much greater volumes are made, many people in developing nations may not get COVID-19 vaccines until 2024, a statement said.

The unnecessary loss of life will be compounded by the loss of livelihoods for millions. According to an International Chamber of Commerce study, the world could face economic losses of more than USD 9 trillion under the scenario of wealthy nations being fully vaccinated by mid-2021, but poor countries largely shut out, it said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic knows no borders and the need for vaccine development and dissemination across the globe is critically important. The TRIPS waiver raised by India and South Africa at the WTO would help the global community move forward in defeating the scourge of COVID-19 by making diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines available in developing countries, Congressman Rosa DeLauro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said at a press conference on Monday.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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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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The vaccines must be made available everywhere to defeat this virus anywhere. The US has a moral imperative to act and support this waiver at the WTO, DeLauro said, expressing hope that the Biden administration will support this waiver to help US' allies around the globe bring an end to this pandemic.

"As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic. Unfortunately, we have seen intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn't happen again, said Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade chair.

"Working to ensure that trade rules do not stunt the developing world's access to vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests is a clear step. It's the right thing to do not only for our country, but for the entire world," he added.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee chair, said he supports the proposed TRIPS waiver because he supports equitable vaccine distribution worldwide. If vaccines are not available everywhere, they would not be able to crush the virus anywhere, he said.

"The new COVID-19 variants, which show more resistance to vaccines, prove that further delay in immunity around the world will lead to faster and stronger mutations. Equitable access is essential. Our globalised economy cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated and have protection against the virus. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, he said.

Paul Farmer, co-founder, Partners In Health told reporters that it was important to stop COVID-19 everywhere to stop it in the US.

"The world does not have time to wait for the usual, slow, and unequal distribution of treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines. We can take a lesson from the global AIDS movements and make sure patent laws don't block access to lifesaving therapies for the poor, he said.

"It's a similar story for vaccines, which in the case of COVID-19 we're so lucky to have and in such short order. Moderna has waived these rights and others should follow suit as we deploy one of the mainstays required to end this pandemic, Farmer said.
PTI
first published: Mar 2, 2021 09:23 am

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