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Governments paid to develop the COVID vaccines. Big Pharma wants to hoard the patents

5 20 9
26.09.2021

Watching the news these days, I am often reminded of a scene from the second "Lord of the Rings" film, in which hobbits Mary and Pippin try to convince the tree-like Ents to join in the fight against evil to save Middle Earth. The Ents form a circle and, very slowly, begin conversing with each other in all their different tree languages. After what feels like an eternity, one of the hobbits asks if they have reached a decision. The Ent leader leans over with a smile and says the Ents have just finished saying hello. Meanwhile, Middle Earth is literally burning.

This is oddly reminiscent of the international crisis today. Almost a year ago, India and South Africa proposed a resolution for a patent waiver for all COVID-19 related technologies at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Essentially, the patent waiver is an assertion that a company's patent will not be enforced; in the case of a vaccine, it means that any company or government, not just the vaccine's creator, can use the same recipe to make the same vaccine.

India and South Africa proposed this resolution after they realized that rich nations were quickly buying up all the vaccine doses in pre-purchasing agreements, while pharmaceutical companies showed no intention of sharing their patents and know-how with producers in developing countries.

Since their proposal, little has happened. In the eleven months since, various drafts of the resolution have been kicked around the WTO, but no final draft has been submitted and no vote scheduled. Maddeningly, one of the chief arguments Big Pharma posits for opposing the waiver is that it would take too long to build production facilities.

Fortunately for would-be vaccine producers in lower- and middle-income countries, this claim about timing is false. Evidence shows that once technology is transferred to generic drug makers, it takes on average six months to start producing vaccines. One company in Argentina was able to get up and going in three months.

But this isn't the only lie Big Pharma is pushing to persuade rich members of the WTO that a patent waiver is unnecessary. For months, the pharma lobby has argued that even if all patents are waived, generic companies won't be able to manufacture doses unless the originator company gives up their know-how. They say this, of course, with a straight face as if this isn't completely in their own power to do.

In May of last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the COVID-19 Technology Transfer Pool (C-TAP), intended to serve as a global knowledge fund where pharma companies and research institutions could pool their relevant........

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