The United Kingdom: Time to drop the vaccine’s patent

In the United Kingdom, several demonstrators dressed in black carried coffins to Downing Street last week with the black and white message of “Drop the Patents” and “Pharma Greed Kills”. The protest was organised by Global Justice Now, an organisation which, alongside other NGOs, sent a letter to the UK government to advocate sharing vaccine technology with the World Health Organisation back in May of this year. The campaigns and calls for waiving the patent have been heating up for over a year. The idea of a waiver was first raised by India and South Africa in a World Trade Organisation meeting. Over 100 countries, NGOs, and experts thought that dropping the intellectual property protection temporarily would facilitate wider use of inoculation. The recent WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property meeting further expressed concern at the failure in reaching a consensus on suspending the legal protection even after 4.9 million deaths due to the pandemic according to the United Nations’ COVID-19 Data Hub.

The UK is one of the biggest voices raised in opposition to waiving the vaccine’s patent, and, according to the analysis of Global Justice Now, it is likely that the UK could become the only country that is opposed to the waiver. On the Global Investment Summit, which was held on 19th October, the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivered a speech emphasising Britain’s insistence on being against the waiver, a position that threatens both the lives and the prospects of poorer countries which are still facing continuous economic lost.

Though the UK government keeps claiming it has an ongoing engagement with the waiver issue and emphasises its donation to the Covax scheme, the Next Century Foundation believes that Britain should go beyond donations to prevent more damage and death caused by the COVID-19. Under Article 66.2 of the global Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, the development governments, including the UK, are obliged to provide incentives to ‘enterprises and institutions’ to enable the transfer of technology and ensure its ‘sound and viable base’. Therefore, the Next Century Foundation calls for not just Britain but also giant pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna, to join the WHO’s COVID patent pool, known as C-TAP, and share the technology know-how with other countries as a good gesture.

After the global breakout caused by COVID-19, the Next Century Foundation believes that the protection of intellectual property should take public emergencies, such as the pandemic, into consideration. We believe that to genuinely make a systemic change and learn from the lessons of HIV/AIDS, vaccine distribution should be based on the consideration of saving lives, not the calculation of industrial profits. Consequently, the Next Century Foundation calls for the international community to pursue more solidarity in two ways – in the short term, reaching a consensus on waiving the intellectual property protection, while in the long term, adopting public emergency as a criteria for suspension of global intellectual property rules.

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