Historical , monumental and a grand act in humanity. The World Health Organization is short of superlatives to describe how important it is for the US to support the suspension of the patent on coronavaccines.
The EU, too, now seems to be in favour of the green light for the plan. That shift in Washington and possibly also in Brussels is indeed special, experts stress. But this does not solve the problem of slow vaccination in low-income countries.
At the current rate, it is expected to take years for the vulnerable to be pricked in all countries. And that, according to epidemiologists, is also a danger to Western countries.
1. What is the purpose of the plan?
One of the goals of the so-called Covid-19 TRIPS Waiver is to vaccinate the worlds population much faster. It must also provide developing countries with more and cheaper access to medicines, ventilation equipment and protective equipment.
Patents and other forms of intellectual property are now a major obstacle to protecting the population, say dozens of these countries.
“ Out of 56 million South Africans, several hundred thousand have now been vaccinated, which is great to go loose,” says Dutch physician Hugo Tempelman in South Africa. He runs a clinic there and is very happy that the United States is tack. It is important that the currently unused means of production are finally deployed in South Africa, says Tempelman in News and Co on NPO Radio 1.
TRIPS was submitted in October by India and South Africa. The plan is to release patents for a few years in order to stop the pandemic. By now, more than 100 out of 164 countries would be in favour of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
2. What criticism is there?
“ Releasing patents is a nice gesture, but it is not the solution,” says vaccine envoy Hans Schikan. He has been appointed by the cabinet to investigate how the Netherlands can increase vaccine production.
Training additional staff for the complex processes, more production plants and making the raw materials and materials available: according to Schikan, this must be done above all. “Many vaccine substances come from the US, and the Defense Production Act stops exporting key components. America should get away from that.”
The worlds largest vaccine producer, in India, previously called on US President Biden via Twitter to abolish this Emergency Act:
Schikan fears that releasing patents may be detrimental to innovation. Producers and investors will be less inclined to invest money into new vaccines if the prescription is public, he explains.
The same argument also gives the international federation of pharmaceuticals. According to this interest group, TRIPS will disrupt vaccine production and will lead to unsafe vaccines. Especially because, according to industry, the MRNA technique used in the vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, is not simply transferable.
3. How striking is the turn of the US?
“ It is very special that the United States join the supporters,” says health economist Xander Koolman of the VU University Amsterdam. “Normally, it is just one country that rejects such a vote because large pharmaceuticals are located.”
According to him, the high vaccination rate in the United States probably has something to do with this. 56 percent of adult Americans have had at least a shot. “The Americans are slowly having a surplus for their own vaccination programme. They can put many more, but run against the limits of readiness.”
4. What is the EUs position?
The temporary release of patents on coronavaccins is negotiable, said President of the European Commission Von der Leyen this morning. Brussels and Washington were of the opinion until yesterday evening that the measure would not be a solution to the vaccine shortage in poorer countries.
“ The Commission today underlined its commitment to keeping all options open and that this position was not changed by the United States decision,” says EU correspondent Aïda Brands. “But now that the US has changed its mind, the question is how long the EU can hold this position.”
It is now up to the European countries to decide on patents together. Germany has already said that it has reservations about the plan; France is more positive. It is expected that the issue will be discussed tomorrow at the summit in Portugal. Only then will it be clear whether the EU is in favour of it.
5. How long can it take before there is an agreement?
In order to accept TRIPS in the WTO, all 164 members must agree. The countries with a large pharmaceutical sector are still opposed, such as the United Kingdom and Brazil. “I think it will be a game that will take a while,” says Koolman. “But it might well go on.”
According to analystsit could be done in a few weeks at the earliest. However, it is obvious that it will be a matter of months. The next question is how much will eventually remain of the original plan. For interest groups will exert pressure to keep the proposal going as little as possible.