Patents vs Covid Vaccine

Covid-19 or profoundly known as “doomsday” has been a cause for concern for everyone. It has been almost a year and a half ever since people have experienced a monthly lockdown, working from home and adapting to the “stay at home lifestyle.” With each day passing by, people prayed for a miracle to happen and finally on 16th January, 2021, a 34- year old man named Manish Kumar, who is a sanitation worker at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) became the first person in India to ever received the Covid-19. After this, India also launched its vaccination drive that has almost covered most of the population making them a tad bit safer from this pandemic which has taken millions of lives all across the world. Nobody ever knew that this pandemic would strike so bad and continue to stay. It is hard to say, but our lives have changed throughout the course of multiple lockdowns, quarantining and social distancing. These words have been included in our daily conversations which have led to multiple levels of distress when people venture out just to have a fresh breather of air. People became so hesitant in touching any surface or eating anything before washing their hands. With people wearing their masks wrong, to sanitizing surfaces before touching, to making sure that social distancing is being maintained, we all have come a long way and the development of the vaccine has made our lives a little better. People have a hope.
India is the largest producer of vaccines, and it had launched a 3 phase vaccination drive.

Being a country with a population of 1.3 million, the “Ministry of Health and Family Welfare” managed to divide the vaccination drive including all health care and front line workers in the first phase and on the very first day, more than 2, 00,000 healthcare workers got their first dose of the vaccine.

What is a vaccine patent?

Patent is like a title that gives the owner the legal right to exclude others from making, using and selling an invention for a limited period of time. All medicines and different vaccines are covered under the patent act to help differentiate them from others. Patents give vaccine makers exclusive rights to manufacture the shot they developed. They are also free to charge a price that covers their research and development costs, but deep profit margins can be controversial during times of crisis, such as the ongoing Covid pandemic. A patent waiver would allow any company with the required capacity to start manufacturing the shot, even without an agreement with the original developer.1 Patent has given the owner the right to help them distinguish their inventions from others but in recent times, countries like India and South Africa are seeking temporary relaxations for IP or known as Intellectual Property and Patents under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, also known as TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organization to boost the mass production of the vaccine.


Since there have been a lot of talk over the vaccine, the Indian ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Brajendra Navnit broke down the math with regards to vaccine production, in an online panel organized by Third World Network (TWN). According to estimates, around 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70% of the world‟s population, if two shots are to be administered per person, to achieve herd immunity. “This requires a 1.5 billion vaccine production capacity per month, if we take just 5 billion doses for the adult population alone. But right now, we don’t even have 400-500 million production capacity per month,” Navnit said in the panel discussion called “High level dialogue: TRIPS waiver – If not now, then when?”


Ever since India has been bit by the deadliest Covid wave, there has been a shortage of vaccines due to illegal hoarding and selling. In today’s world, there are more than 2-4 vaccines available in the market to fight against Covid-19 that have proven efficacy and have necessary approvals. These have been produced by Moderna, Pfizer, Bharat Biotech and AstraZeneca (in collaboration with Oxford University), to name a few. However, at present, these companies have only entered into voluntary agreements and licenses to scale up production with other entities. The arrangement between UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Pune-based Serum Institute of India to produce Covishield is one such example.


With the increasing demand of the vaccines, it should be taken into consideration that the waiver to keep a hold on the patent for the vaccines should be made “mandatory” as with the pandemic reaching different heights every day and more and more people are dying because of the shortage of the vaccines, companies could share their technique as to how they manufacture the vaccine keeping in mind all the restrictions and Patent protection laws for the manufacturing company. Laws have been made for helping inventors in keeping their productions safe and because of the current scenario; it is a little difficult to give full patent protection to them. Since India is the largest “manufacturer” of vaccines, we had a good amount of supply in the starting months of 2021 but as the cases have had a striking increase in the last few months, we cannot afford to provide the vaccination to everyone. Even though we are the largest manufacturer, we cannot only depend on 1-2 companies for the production.


If in a country where thousands of people are dying because of the shortage of vaccines, it is in the best interest of the manufacturing companies to scale up and merge with companies who have proper vaccine development equipment making sure that the original makers get the credit for the idea. With scaling the production of the vaccines with different manufactures from all over the world, we could easily battle this virus.


Conclusion


There have been a lot of arguments raised because of the waiver that many trade secrets will be disclosed, countries might take undue-advantage of this situation but waiving off the patent does not mean that it will not be protected under Patent Act. It will ease a few restrictions keeping in mind that the originators get full protection as in when the situation gets better. People are in desperate need of the vaccination and we need to wake up and take this matter into our hands as soon as possible. Covid-19 is a global pandemic and not a country wise pandemic. It has struck the entire world and all of us are suffering together. Now is the time for the entire world to come together to help battle this horrific virus. Medicines, oxygen and vaccines have become the need of the hour. Without the vaccination, there cannot be herd immunity and without that, this pandemic cannot be kept in control.


Author: Nandini Sharma from Army Law College, Pune.


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