WHO adviser expresses pessimism over success of COVID-19 vaccine patent exemption

Covid-19 vaccine

Plans to grant a patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines as a way to boost global production, which should be assessed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), are unlikely to materialize given the slow pace of progress and the danger that such a move could remove the incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop more vaccines, Robert Steffen, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the University of Zurich, told Sputnik.

South Africa and India launched the proposal for a temporary waiver of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) late last year, arguing it would help boost vaccine production. , especially in low income countries. The proposal received support from the leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“I am not very optimistic on this issue, not only because the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland, and elsewhere, does not like it, but also for the good reason that the World Trade Organization is only scheduling this discussion to the end of this year, ”said Steffen, a frequent WHO advisor, on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

The European Commission issued a statement on Friday saying it was “not convinced” that a TRIPS waiver would ensure widespread and rapid delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, and Steffen said suspension of patent protections could deter pharmaceutical companies to further develop their current vaccines. .

“And then, of course, we also have to listen to the whispers of the pharmaceutical industry, which tells us that if it can’t patent a new vaccine, it has no incentive to develop it, and whether such regulation would cripple the production and development of new vaccines would, of course, be very bad, ”Steffen said.

Nonetheless, the University of Zurich epidemiologist said a solution must be found to ensure equitable access to vaccines, especially as low-income countries have only received 0.2% of global doses. COVID-19 vaccine, according to WHO data.

“The situation is totally unsatisfactory. Just in a meeting an hour ago [on Friday] Dr Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organization, again commented on the tragedy that in low-income countries very often less than 1%, or at most 4-5%, of the population is vaccinated, compared to more than 40% in industrialized countries, ”commented Steffen.

Speaking on Monday, the WHO director general expressed hope that several new manufacturing sites in Africa would be ready to start producing COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the year.

René Awambeng, head of customer relations at the African Import-Export Bank, told Sputnik at SPIEF that the pan-African financial institution was working to support the Pasteur Institute in Senegal to strengthen the production of COVID vaccines. 19, as well as vaccines against other diseases, on the African continent.

This year’s edition of SPIEF was held from June 2-5 in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. Rossiya Segodnya was an official media partner of the event.

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