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Covid vaccine: Patent taboo in Europe


Despite AstraZenecaVon Der Leyen has been continuously delayed in the supply of the agreed vaccine with the EU, Von Der Leyen has no regrets because the contract signed with the Anglo-Swedish company allows the company to monopolize the intellectual property of the vaccine. please. This means the company has the right to prohibit others from producing in quantities they cannot deliver.

“The delay in vaccine supply is not related to intellectual property, but due to insufficient production capacity,” said Miriam García Ferrer, spokesman for the European Commission’s trade affairs. effect on the implementation of sale and purchase contracts signed by the EU ”: with the proposal of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (the new General Director of the World Trade Organization), accordingly, the voluntary cooperation between companies It should be facilitated to use all production capacities, even in developing countries ”.

An initiative to liberalize the production of drugs against coronavirus during the period pandemic was launched at WTO last October by India and South Africa. Specifically, the two countries have proposed to suspend some parts of the International Treaty on the Protection of Intellectual Property (TRIPs, an agreement signed under the WTO).

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However, delegates from the European Commission’s Trade Board at the WTO continued to oppose the proposal on behalf of the EU 27. This initiative is supported by nearly 80 low-income countries, who see this as the only way to secure enough dose quickly. At March’s meeting TRIPs Council, when decisions require consensus, discussion is postponed (until April or June) due to interference from rich countries. Opposing countries also included the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia and Japan: strongholds of pharmaceutical lobbies have stockpiled the most promising doses of vaccines and bought in advance. half of them, although less than 15 percent of the world’s population, according to Unicef.

The Commission’s anti-WTO stance is agreed upon by all Member States, which have previously discussed and supported the WTO through their technical delegates to the Council’s Trade Policy Committee. This can be clearly seen in meeting minutes held from January to February, organized by the European Observatory non-governmental organization.

Produced in the hands of a few

The Industrial Development Commission of the Covid Vaccine Task Force, led by Commissioner Thierry Breton, has been in charge of promoting intercompany agreements within EU territory, without regard to patent issues. processing. In reality, Big Pharma is subcontracting their various production stages for other companies scattered throughout the Old Continent. However, the subcontractors do not have a license to independently manufacture and distribute vaccines: it remains in the hands of the patent holders.

Instead, real licenses were granted to non-EU manufacturers: AstraZeneca issued them to operators in India, Brazil, Japan, Korea, China, Australia, Spain, Mexico and Argentina, with the obligation to sell only in limited geographic areas. This means they are banned from supplying the more lucrative European markets where multinationals maintain monopolies. In short, it is the giants that always control the supply.

Massimo Florio, professor of Public Economics at the University of Milan, said: “There is a lot of production capacity that is not being used everywhere, but we are relying on a few factories that will never be able to. Offer up to whatever is due. “It is pointless for pharmaceutical companies to have exclusive manufacturing rights; they may also be compensated through royalties received under licenses granted to third parties.” According to a report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, only a small percentage of the world’s 16.7 million liters capacity to manufacture vaccines, therapies, antibodies and antivirals. used for Covid-19.

“Sharing patents and technologies outside of a narrow partnership led by the pharmaceutical giants is a must, if not,” argues Sara Albiani, a consultant for the NGO Oxfam. you cannot expand production enough to meet global demand, even in less affluent regions ”.


Similar requirements were made in the summer of 2020 by the European Parliament, which on 11 March voted for the revision of its report on annual economic strategy to reiterate with the Commission on the urgency of overcoming obstacles to Covid vaccine production due to the patent.

At the same time, pressure from civil society is increasing: a group of 40 NGOs announced a call to EU governments for patent liberalization ahead of the final meeting of the TRIPs Council. . Last November a Initiative of European Citizenship Treatment rights were launched, with more than 100 thousand signatures to date. 1 million is required by 1 May for the European Commission to consider proposals.

Blank government checks

“Partial suspension of TRIP or even compulsory licensing that the EU Treaty allows in health crisis situations, furthermore with very complex procedures, will not be enough. Any third party still needs active cooperation from Ellen ‘t Hoen, director of the Center for Drug Law & Policy. According to’ t Hoen, ‘governments should bind companies. pharmaceuticals with this kind of commitment in exchange for public funding for research and development, rather than relying solely on spontaneous initiatives on their part, but there is a kind of psychosocial turmoil concerned that the industry Karma will stop innovating if you make it difficult for its life.

The Vice President of the European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, seems to confirm that fear. In answer On a question posed in December by an MEP group on the controversial Indo-South Africa proposal to the TRIPs Council, Dombrovskis said: “Such a move risks limiting the incentives for research into innovative pharmaceutical products to meet new health challenges “.

Rachel Thrasher, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development Policy, said: “Not everyone agrees with this view:“ This time, arguing about patent protection as a reward for the head. investment is not quite standing ”. “Governments have played an active role in financing (although the EU pays relatively less than the US and other international organizations, creating less leverage for negotiations), not to mention the fact that the EU pays relatively less than the US and other international organizations. companies have a guaranteed worldwide market that guarantees substantial returns. even if a portion of the investment comes from their own pockets. ” To vaccinate the entire global population would require 14 billion doses, a number that could be multiplied if, as many scientists predict, the scope of vaccination would be limited in time, requiring large recalls. times.

In order to reconcile public and private interests, the experts we interviewed suggest that governments should focus on large-scale production in a few joint centers operating under contracts; or, alternatively, they multiply the number of licensees for the technology by generally compensating patent holders. Michelle Childs explains: “Right now, it is very difficult for countries to converge on a global matching mechanism in the midst of disasters that all compete to buy drugs for their citizens. Policy Operator at Abandoned Medicine Initiative. “I hope that the leaders have learned their lessons and will make wise choices at least in the future,” said Clemens Martin Auer, the outgoing Co-Chair of the Vaccine Task Force. please EU, for more info.

The investigation is part of the project “Who is making money from the Covid-19 pandemic,” with support from the Investigative Journal for the European Union.


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