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White House considering supporting India, South Africa move at WTO on COVID vaccines: Report

Such a positive consideration by the Joe Biden administration comes after more than 60 lawmakers, mostly progressives, and a large number of rights and non-profit pharma bodies have approached the White House to support the move of India and South Africa along with hundreds of other nations that have urgently gone to the WTO seeking a time-limited waiver of the TRIPS agreement.

March 27, 2021 / 07:46 AM IST

The White House is considering supporting a move by India and South Africa before the World Trade Organization on emergency temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules so that greater supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, treatment, and diagnostic tests can be produced globally, a media report has said.

Such a positive consideration by the Joe Biden administration comes after more than 60 lawmakers, mostly progressives, and a large number of rights and non-profit pharma bodies have approached the White House to support the move of India and South Africa along with hundreds of other nations that have urgently gone to the WTO seeking a time-limited waiver of the TRIPS agreement.

The previous Trump administration had opposed such a move. The Indian Embassy here has also reached out to several lawmakers, including the members of the Indian Caucus, advocacy groups and administration in this regard. The temporary TRIPS waiver would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without causing trade sanctions or international disputes.

“The White House is weighing whether to suspend intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, in response to pressure from developing nations and subsequent support from progressive lawmakers, according to three sources familiar with the matter,” CNBC news said.

According to the news report, the White House convened a meeting of deputy-level policymakers on March 22, but they reached no final decision. “The view is ‘We’re not safe until the world is safe,’ one of the sources said of the support from progressives on Capitol Hill.”

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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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At a news conference early this month, Congressmen Rosa DeLauro, Jan Schakowsky, Earl Blumenauer, Lloyd Doggett, Adriano Espaillat, and Andy Levin urged President Joe Biden to support an emergency temporary waiver at the WTO as requested by countries led by India and South Africa.

The lawmakers said in the coming times more than 60 US representatives would collectively write to Biden to announce support for the TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO.

The temporary TRIPS waiver would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without causing trade sanctions or international disputes, they said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also written a letter to Biden in this regard supporting the cause of the progressive members of her party, who now enjoy considerable influence in the Democratic Party.

CNBC said the move would allow other countries to replicate existing vaccines. The United States has so far approved three vaccine shots: one developed by American company Pfizer and German-based BioNTech, another produced by U firm Moderna and the third made by American company Johnson & Johnson, it said.

“As part of rebuilding our alliances, we are exploring every avenue to coordinate with our global partners and are evaluating the efficacy of this specific proposal by its true potential to save lives,” USTR spokesman Adam Hodge told CNBC.

Pharma companies and the US Chambers of Commerce have opposed any move to support India and South Africa at the WTO.
PTI
first published: Mar 27, 2021 07:46 am

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