ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reluctance in Ensuring Vaccine Equity


On 21 May 2020, the internationally acclaimed science journal Nature, in its editorial, called the non-commitment of the United States and the United Kingdom towards patent pooling, open science, and innovation, unfortunate. Most major multinational pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson condemned this initiative of the WHO. While the apathy of the multinational pharmaceutical firms towards public health concerns prioritising their monopolies is not really a surprise, what is appalling is the ambivalent nature of the Indian government in ensuring Covid-19 vaccine equity.

In October 2020, India along with South Africa introduced a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO), asking for a “[W]aiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.” This proposal is supported by over 100 countries, leading intellectual property rights experts across the globe, and not-for-profit organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). The TRIPS agreement is an international agreement institutionalised by the WTO harmonising patent laws across the globe. India became a member of the WTO in 1995 and thereby party to the TRIPS agreement. Prior to this, the Indian Patent Act, 1970 only allowed for process patents permitting domestic pharmaceutical firms to manufacture drugs through reverse-engineering techniques. This provision allowed domestic firms to sell drugs at nominal prices as well as rendered India as the “pharmacy of the world.” However, with the enactment of TRIPS, patent regime in India transformed from process to products where manufacturing of drugs through reverse-engineering techniques is no more an option. It is in this context that India and South Africa proposed a waiver from TRIPS to ensure speedy production of Covid-19 vaccines.

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Updated On : 7th Oct, 2021
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