It has been more than a year since the WHO declaration of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many efforts have been made, such as the development of vaccines and advances in diagnosis and treatment, and in some countries, the infection is being controlled. On the other hand, COVID-19 continues to gain momentum on a global scale, with more than 400,000 new infections recorded per day in India due to the emergence of highly infectious mutants. As the saying goes, “No one is safe, until everyone is safe,” it is essential to control the infection worldwide and prevent the growth and spread of highly infectious and virulent mutant strains. To achieve this, it is crucial to deliver necessary tools of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, including vaccines, to the world in a prompt and equitable manner, and to build a resilient society that can cope with COVID-19 and other emerging pandemics, including by strengthening health systems and preventing non-communicable diseases.
It has been more than half a year since the Republic of South Africa and India submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 2nd October last year to exempt some of the intellectual property rights related to COVID-19. By now, the number of co-sponsors of the proposal has increased to 63 countries, and more than half of the member countries support the proposal. Many civil society organizations working in the field of health care in developing and emerging countries are also in favor of this proposal. The government of the United States of America, which had previously opposed the proposal, supported it on May 5 and expressed its strong desire to proceed with text-based negotiations. As a result, the European Union and other countries, which had maintained their opposition to the proposal, are beginning to reconsider their stance.
We, the ” Equal Health and Medical Access on COVID-19 for All!” Japan Network (hereinafter referred to as the “Japan Network”) hereby requests the Japanese government to agree to the “waiver of some intellectual property rights related to COVID-19” proposed by South Africa and other co-proposing countries at the WTO, and to actively participate in the future negotiations. The reasons are as follows:
- Existing measures have reached their limits due to the worsening COVID-19 crisis
The goal of the proposal is to achieve faster global convergence of COVID-19 by increasing the production of vaccines and new products related to COVID-19 to meet the global public health needs related to COVID-19. To this end, it proposes to waive intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment technologies, including vaccines, and promote technology sharing and cooperation so that more partners, including developed and developing countries, can accelerate the production and supply of goods necessary for COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment on an equal basis.
The biggest problem is that global COVID-19 control measures under intellectual property rights, which have been greatly strengthened and globalized since the 1990s, are facing limitations and are not able to respond to the worsening COVID-19 crisis caused by the emergence of mutant strains.
We commend the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT Accelerator) and its vaccine partnership, COVAX, for the swift move toward its establishment and its achievement in the midst of this unprecedented crisis. We also commend the Japanese government for its active support to COVAX and other key ACT Accelerator organizations, and for holding the COVAX Vaccine Summit jointly with the GAVI Alliance on June 2.
However, according to COVAX’s “Global Supply Forecast” (April 7, 2021), only 26% of the population of the target countries will be supplied with vaccines by the end of 2021. In addition, the variety of vaccines COVAX can supply is limited; actually a significant portion of its supply relies on AstraZeneca’s vaccine (Covishield), which is produced under license by the Serum Institute of India. The country, which has been hit by the extreme spread of mutated strains of the virus since March has now suspended vaccine exports, and COVAX’s supply of vaccines to the world is facing a major crisis.
- Achieving partial waiver of intellectual property rights and global convergence of COVID-19
In light of this situation, it is imperative that, until COVID-19 is brought under control, the shackles of intellectual property rights be lifted and technology sharing and cooperation be accelerated to diversify the types and supply of vaccines. Without this, COVAX will not be able to continue to supply vaccines in a sustainable manner. F or the global convergence of COVID-19, it is also critical to go beyond the limit of procurement from COVAX and ensure a rapid and equitable supply of vaccines on a global scale. Furthermore, it is crucial to promote the production of various supplies necessary for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19, including oxygen, which has become a huge challenge in India, and therapeutic agents for which much knowledge has been obtained through accumulated clinical experience. The temporary waiver of the intellectual property rights related to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19, as well as the vaccine, is a starting point for meeting the global public health needs for the convergence of COVID-19. The GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which is responsible for vaccine supply within COVAX, has issued a statement welcoming the US decision to support IP Waiver.
Until everyone is safe, no one is safe. With these words in mind, we hereby urge the Japanese government to support the “waiver of partial intellectual property rights related to COVID-19” proposed by the Republic of South Africa and other co-proposing countries at the WTO, and to actively participate in the coming negotiations.
“Equal Health and Medical Access on COVID-19 for All!” Japan Network