Leaders convened at the recent World Health Assembly advanced solutions for some of our greatest global health challenges, including creating action plans to address the real barriers to medicine access and a new committee to better respond to health emergencies. In an effort to support continued innovation, new key strategic priorities will focus on “powering progress by harnessing science, research, innovation, data, and digital technologies.”
As delegates meet for the World Trade Organization (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference this month, they should build on this momentum and discuss ways to support continued progress and innovation.
Unfortunately, one of the agenda items is poised to do just the opposite. WTO member nations plan to discuss a waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights for COVID-19 technologies. A move that is unnecessary and also harmful to progress. Here’s why:
- Vaccine supply - the supposed reason for an IP waiver - is not an issue
With more than 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses projected to be produced this year, there are more than enough shots to go around. World leaders have acknowledged vaccine supply is not a barrier to global access, as noted at the recent Second Global COVID-19 Summit. Furthermore, multiple companies in Africa and Asia have noted decreased vaccine demand, potentially closing some COVID-19 facilities in the regions as a result.
- Disrupting the IP ecosystem will only hinder progress; breakthrough solutions have made their way because of IP.
Prior to COVID-19, the fastest delivery of a vaccine to market was four years. Innovators developed successful coronavirus vaccine candidates in significantly less time. This progress was because innovators were protected and supported by the IP ecosystem. Furthermore, IP protections have facilitated collaboration, such as through voluntary licensing agreements that have helped scale up COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Weakening IP protections will impede progress, not support it.
- There are real problems that need real solutions, which can be supported by IP.
Many of the barriers impacting access to COVID-19 innovation include infrastructure and supply chain issues, as well as an inability to administer doses. In Eastern Ghana, for example, the barrier to vaccination is not getting supplies to the edge of the country but rather “convincing people to get the shot.” A USAID expert acknowledged, in speaking with other in speaking with other "African health counterparts, that there’s just not the same sense of urgency about it that there was last year.”
As world leaders work to end the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for the future, they must support the tools responsible for the amazing progress that has taken place, like IP, and tackle the true barriers to equitable access. While addressing these barriers will take effort, global leaders have an opportunity to support real change while continuing to allow the IP ecosystem to facilitate much-needed solutions for today and tomorrow’s issues.
As world leaders work to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for the future, they must support the tools responsible for the amazing progress that has taken place, like IP, and tackle the true barriers to equitable access.