World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday urged countries to waive certain patent rights to help ramp up Covid-19 vaccine production.
The WHO Chief, in a press briefing, said that many countries can start producing their own vaccines by waiving intellectual property rights as provided in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement.
“Many countries with vaccine manufacturing capacity can start producing their own vaccines by waiving intellectual property rights, as provided for in the TRIPS agreement,” he said. “Those provisions are there for use in emergencies. If now is not a time to use them, then when? This is unprecedented time, and WHO believes that this is a time to trigger that provision and waive patent rights,” he said.
Ghebreyesus further thanked South Africa and India for their proposal to the World Trade Organization to waive patents on medical products for Covid-19 until the end of this unprecedented pandemic.
The WHO Chief further detailed the organisation’s approach to prioritise and ramp up production. So far, WHO’s COVAX initiative which has been established to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine has delivered over 20 million doses of vaccine to 20 countries. In the next week, COVAX will deliver 14.4 million doses to a further 31 countries bringing the total number of countries to 51, Ghebreyesus said.
“One of our main priorities now is to increase the ambition of COVAX to help all countries end the pandemic. This means urgent action to ramp up production. We currently face several barriers to increasing the speed and volume of production, from export bans to shortages of raw materials including glass, plastic and stoppers,” he said.
WHO is working on four approaches for the same, one of them is urging countries to waive patent rights. Apart from this, the most short-term approach of the organisation is to connect companies who are producing vaccines with other companies who have excess capacity to fill and finish.
“This could help to speed up production and increase volumes,” he said citing the example of the deal between Johnson & Johnson and Merck which enables Merck to provide fill and finish for the J&J vaccine.
“We need more partnerships like this, and we need them in all regions. WHO can support this process by identifying gaps and providing a “matchmaking” service between vaccine producers and companies with capacity,” he said.
Apart from this, WHO will also focus on “bilateral technology transfer, through voluntary licensing from a company that owns the patents on a vaccine to another company who can produce them.”
This is similar to what AstraZeneca did by transferring its vaccine technology to SKBio in the Republic of Korea and the Serum Institute of India, which is producing AstraZeneca vaccines for COVAX.
WHO will focus on coordinated technology transfer as part of its approach which will provide more transparency as per the WHO Chief.
“This would involve universities and manufacturers licensing their vaccines to other companies through a global mechanism coordinated by WHO, which would also facilitate the training of staff at the recipient companies, and coordinate investments in infrastructure,” Ghebreyesus said.
“This provides more transparency and a more coherent global approach that contributes to regional health security,” he added. “And it’s a mechanism that would increase production capacity not only for this pandemic but for future pandemics and potentially for the production of vaccines for routine immunisation programmes,” he further added.
WHO and its COVAX partners will meet with partners from governments and the industry next week “to identify bottlenecks in production and discuss how to solve them.”