G-20 snubs waiver of vaccine patents

Reuters Brussels | Updated on May 18, 2021

‘Patent-pooling’ likely to be pushedas an alternative

Leaders of the world’s largest economies back “voluntary licensing” of Covid-19 vaccine patents, the draft conclusions of a summit show, watering down a US push for waivers and earlier commitments to supply more funds to the World Health Organization.

Global Health Summit

The draft document lists commitments of G-20 nations and other countries and is to be adopted on Friday at a Global Health Summit in Rome, one of this year’s major events to coordinate global actions against the pandemic.

The draft, which is still subject to changes, is the result of a compromise among experts from G-20 nations, which remains divided over the waiving of intellectual property rights for vaccines.

Temporary waiver

The Biden administration earlier in May joined India, South Africa and many other developing countries in calling for a temporary waiver of patents for vaccines, in the hope that it would boost production and allow a fairer distribution of shots across the world.

But the European Union and other vaccine-making countries have raised doubts, saying that the removal of US export restrictions on vaccine raw materials, the transfer of know-how and voluntary cooperation among vaccine makers would ensure a much quicker ramping up of global production.

The health summit’s draft conclusions reflect these differing views and make no mention of patent waivers. G-20 leaders are to commit instead to patent-pooling, which is a less radical measure to encourage the sharing of patents.

It is still an unfriendly move for pharmaceutical companies, said an industry expert, but far less extreme than a patent waiver. Under a patent pool, drugmakers decide voluntarily to share licences for the manufacturing of their products in poorer nations. Pools have for instance been used to ease access to HIV drugs in Africa.

The summit’s conclusions stress that G-20 leaders commit to promoting “voluntary licensing, technology and knowledge transfer, and patent-pooling”.

Blow to WHO?

The conclusions may also deal a blow to the WHO and its scheme to accelerate the distribution of vaccines, drugs and tests across the world.

Global leaders reaffirm their support for the scheme, known as ACT Accelerator, but refrain from clearly committing to fully funding it. They “underline the necessity to close its funding gap with fair burden sharing”, the draft document reads, and they call for the scheme’s strategic review.

This represents a major watering down of the initial draft in which leaders explicitly committed for the first time to fair and full financing of the scheme.

The original draft was more influenced by the European Commission, which is one of the hosts of the summit, together with the Italian government which holds the G-20 presidency this year.

Published on May 18, 2021

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