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UN chief Antonio Guterres extends support to India, South Africa's initiative of waiving TRIPS for COVID products

India has worked with South Africa and other partners at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to seek a relaxation in the norms of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

June 12, 2021 / 12:35 PM IST
Antonio Guterres (File image )

Antonio Guterres (File image )

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has extended support to India and South Africa's initiative at the WTO to waive intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines and products, though he cautioned that "technology transfer" must be backed up by "technical support".

India has worked with South Africa and other partners at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to seek a relaxation in the norms of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Well, my belief is that we need to have a comprehensive programme. One is, of course, to address the problems of intellectual property and I support the initiative that was taken by South Africa and by India in relation to TRIPS, waving TRIPS regulations in the context of the World Trade Organization,” Guterres said during a press conference at the G7 Summit in London on Friday.

Guterres was responding on whether he supports the moves to waive patents related to COVID-19 vaccines.

However, the UN chief added "that is not enough" and there is need for strong cooperation between governments and the pharmaceutical industry in order to make sure that licences are available, "but also in order to make sure that the technology transfers and the technical support is available. Because if not, the fact that licence is available will not necessarily solve the problem."


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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The US has backed the initiative by India and South Africa at the WTO, seen as a breakthrough in the global fight against the deadly pandemic, raising hopes of expanding supply of vaccines at affordable rates for developing/underdeveloped nations.

Guterres added that it is also essential to look seriously into supply chains.

"It's a very complex supply chain, so we really need a concerted coordination among all countries that can produce vaccines, or [those who] will be able to do so when properly helped, and, interacting with the pharmaceutical industry to make sure that we have the best possible results," he said.

Guterres explained that companies could make reasonable profit and simultaneously help increase the capacity of production.

"Obviously, the questions of intellectual property are important in this regard. I understand that the companies need to be supported in the point of view of… having guarantees that their investments…, effectively, become credible. So, I am not asking for any measure to have expropriation or whatever.

"What I'm asking is for fairness in the way things are managed and for a mechanism of cooperation that will allow for companies to make the reasonable profits they are supposed to make, but, at the same time, for the capacity of production to be doubled and for all those that have the capacity to do these vaccines to have the conditions to so," he said.

Guterres stressed that vaccines should be considered as global public goods and they must be available and affordable to all.

"There is no way to defeat a virus that spreads in developing countries like wildfire and that can risk to mutate. Mutations abide by (Charles) Darwin’s laws of evolution which means it's the worst virus that tends to survive and to multiply and one day eventually to become immune to vaccines."

Guterres emphasised that it is in the interest of everybody that everybody gets vaccinated sooner rather than later.

"Unfortunately, now it has been very unequal and very unfair, the way vaccination is taking place in the world, but I'm encouraged by the announcements that were made in the run up for this G7 meeting," he said.

The US has promised to share 500 million doses of coronavirus vaccines with countries facing shortage of doses. The UK has made a commitment of 100 million doses. Similar promises, albeit smaller consignments, have been made by other G7 countries.

Further, the International Monetary Fund with the World Bank has announced a USD 50-billion programme to support vaccination in developing countries.

Guterres noted that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he expects that the G7 will be able to reach 1 billion doses by the commitments of the different countries, a development he welcomed.

"But it's important to say that we need to recognise that we are at war with the virus, a virus that is very dangerous that is causing tremendous suffering and destroying many of the perspectives of progress in the global economy. To defeat the virus, and to be able to boost our weapons against the virus -- and the most important of those weapons is vaccination -- to boost those weapons we need to act with the logic, with the sense of urgency, and with the priorities of a war economy. And we are still far from getting there."

The UN Chief stressed that there is a need for a global vaccination plan, and "we need those that have power to be in charge of the design and implementation of that global vaccination plan."

"This global vaccination plan would of course have to deal with questions of intellectual property, questions of licensing, but also with the supply chains to make sure there is no disruption in the supply chain. Let's not forget that, for each vaccine, there are probably more than 100 components produced in different parts of the world," he said.
first published: Jun 12, 2021 12:37 pm

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