How patent issues can help increase access to vaccines

By patenting vaccines, they are left at a low cost and there are many who can take the formula and reproduce it in their own country. Marta Fernández Jara – Europa Press

One of the first Australian children to be vaccinated against polio in the 1950s, Joan McMakin, now a professor in the School of Dentistry, Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, has done extensive research on how Impact of polio on society. “There was universal fun because the vaccine was finally produced because there was half a century of concern about polio.”, He explains.

When word of the vaccine’s success spread, Dr. Salik responded to a question about The intellectual property rights of a vaccine have been cited in newspapers around the world. It’s been more than 60 years since Dr. Salk expressed this feeling.But as the world continues its struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, The big questions remain unresolved about the role intellectual property rights should play in vaccine development.

What are patents?

The reason we obtain patents is to reward people for the effort they put into developing new technology. Eduardo Sanz - Europa Press
The reason we obtain patents is to reward people for the effort they put into developing new technology. Eduardo Sanz – Europa Press

Flinders University School of Medicine and Professor of Public Health Nikolai Petrovsky also lead research at Vaxine, a vaccine development company in Adelaide. His company first attracted funding from the United States government after fears of anthrax that followed the 9/11 attacks.

Since then, his own method has been used in vaccine development projects in response to outbreaks of other diseases, such as swine flu, Ebola and MERS. sThe ability to protect intellectual property helped make research economically viable. “The reason we obtain patents is to reward people for the effort they put into developing a new technology -Says-. We have been developing our vaccine for 20 years and investing more than $ 50 million. “

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In Australia, standard patents on devices, materials, methods, or processes have a term of 20 years and allow the patent holder to use the invention for commercial purposes during that period. Dr. said. Petrovsky said the ability to patent new versions of vaccines was a catalyst for innovation.

But Deborah Gleeson, Associate Professor of Public Health at La Trobe University, who also represents the Public Health Association of Australia, said that the global health crisis sparked by the emerging coronavirus had highlighted shortcomings in intellectual property rights.. To her, the idea that patents would allow the companies that fund vaccine development to remain economically viable wasn’t necessarily accurate. This reasoning is incorrect in the context of a pandemic. The development of COVID-19 vaccines and other products to fight the pandemic has been supported by huge amounts of government funding. ”

Are patents responsible for slow vaccination?

The World Trade Organization welcomes US support for the suspension of patents and calls for immediate negotiations. EFE / EPA / SALVATORE DI NOLFI / Archive
The World Trade Organization welcomes US support for the suspension of patents and calls for immediate negotiations. EFE / EPA / SALVATORE DI NOLFI / Archive

Late last yearMSF said it has estimated that the six projects driving COVID-19 vaccine research have received $ 12 billion in public funding during the pandemic.

European Commission Director Ursula von der Leyen has publicly stated that the bloc is “ready to discuss” a proposal supported by the United States to exempt the patent for Covid-19 vaccines and French President Emmanuel Macron, and declared his support for this meaning, referring to a press conference in which he said that he “fully supports the plan.” Absolute as pressure has been created for a measure that could boost its production and distribution worldwide. “

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Pharmaceutical companies reacted angrily, and some countries were amazed. Before the management decision Joe Biden To support the temporary suspension of patent rights for a vaccine.

Von der Leyen stated in his recent press conference that Vaccination efforts in the European Union were accelerating, with 30 Europeans vaccinated every second with more than 200 million doses exported.But he argued accordingly “I was ready to discuss any proposal that addresses the crisis in an effective and practical manner … So we are ready to discuss how the US proposal to exempt intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve this goal.

Petrovsky claimed, “Capacity shortage was affecting the global supply of vaccines rather than the limitations associated with patents. The problems we face at the moment, and they are very serious, are the lack of manufacturing capacity.

Bolivia has launched a campaign to release EFE / Martín Alipaz patents
Bolivia has launched a campaign to release EFE / Martín Alipaz patents

Nevertheless, Gleeson is entrenched in the camp of people who believe that patents have played a role in delaying the global production and release of COVID-19 vaccines. “At the moment, we have a few companies that have the exclusive rights to make vaccines and cannot produce enough to meet global demand.Throughout the pandemic, it has been highlighted time and time again that rich countries have better access to vaccines compared to poor countries. “There is capacity in Asia, Africa and South America to manufacture vaccines, and there are companies that can do that if they can get access,” he explains. To information and knowledge. ”Gleeson.

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Since October last year, the proposal led by India and South Africa to relinquish some intellectual property rights to medical devices for COVID-19 through the World Trade Organization has garnered support from more than 100 member states. The United States and the European Union were among the members that did not support the proposal.

Given that there are several thousand people dying every day in India and other countries severely affected by the epidemic, every day we delay production increases means more deaths from the epidemic.. Gleeson concludes that it means more time before the epidemic is brought under control and more risks for the variants to emerge.

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