US Patent Exemption Learn more about safeguarding your image
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday approved the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine produced by Chinese drug maker Sinopharm. This is the first vaccine against COVID-19 developed by a non-Western country that has received the endorsement and support of the WHO.
Long before the approval, millions of doses of Sinopharm vaccines had already been administered in China. In addition to China, the vaccine has also been approved for emergency use in countries like Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan. It is also used in the Macao Special Administrative Region of China. Since the Sinopharm vaccine is now included in COVAX, the access of many poor countries to the COVID-19 vaccine will be particularly facilitated.
China announced in February that it had officially joined the program and pledged to provide 10 million doses of the vaccine to COVAX. Given China’s production capacity, that number will increase as other vaccines developed by China are approved for emergency use in the future.
Currently, a major challenge in the global response to the pandemic is the insufficient production of vaccines. In addition, the lack of capacity to deliver vaccines quickly and accurately to countries and regions in need is another problem. Thus, the most urgent need to fight the virus is increased cooperation between major countries.
Last week, the Biden administration expressed support for lifting intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. It is a step forward. However, this does not mean that rapid vaccine production or a rapid response to the pandemic is guaranteed in all countries of the world.
The move is meant to help reverse the declining national image of the United States since the outbreak of the pandemic, but it cannot immediately address vaccine production and distribution issues.
The waiver to which the Biden administration refers does not require or oblige pharmaceutical companies to make their patents fully public or to assign them. The White House means that if US companies are about to sue other countries for imitation of their patents, the US government will not approve these companies’ claims at the WTO. To some extent, this is positive news: if a country or company is able to produce vaccines – although they are duplicated – do so and the US administration will not sue you.
However, it is very difficult for the Biden administration to implement such an initiative. Countries like Germany and pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, oppose this White House decision. They believe that such a practice will stifle innovations. When pharmaceutical companies lose their drive to innovate, the entire industry, instead of just one or two companies, will be affected. In response, according to a Reuters report on May 7, a German government spokesperson said in a statement: “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”
Two aspects must be addressed to help meet the challenges of the global fight against the pandemic. On the one hand, in terms of production cooperation, it depends on how the WTO, the main countries and the big international pharmaceutical companies producing vaccines are going to negotiate and whether they come to a consensus. WTO negotiations, in particular, can take a long time for its 164 members to reach any kind of consensus.
On the other hand, it is imperative that arrangements are made for the delivery of vaccines and related medical equipment as well as for the deployment of medical personnel as soon as possible. Efforts are needed to prevent the situation from worsening in some poor countries; or in those who have been severely affected by the pandemic, like India, to get even more out of control.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of the governance capacities of countries. In the face of a public health emergency of this deadly magnitude, not all countries have the capacity to cope. For example, the production and delivery of oxygen cylinders is not supposed to be a difficult task. But it has become a major problem for India. Therefore, another job that the international society needs to do is help these countries improve their epidemic management and control capacities as soon as possible.
In an interview with The Indian Express on April 30, US Presidential Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci said India should stop “immediately” for “a few weeks” to deal with the “very difficult and desperate situation”. He suggested that India could learn lessons from China’s disease-fighting practices in tackling the epidemic, such as building makeshift hospitals capable of treating large numbers of patients in a short period of time.
The COVID-19 outbreak will undoubtedly inspire countries to think about their own management systems and then make continuous adjustments and reforms to better prepare for similar public health incidents in the future. Adjustments and reforms have in fact already started, which will ultimately decide the direction of global cooperation in multiple areas such as public health.
The author is editor-in-chief of the People’s Daily and currently a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina