It’s Time For A Patent Reprieve For COVID-19 Vaccines

The world desperately needs more COVID-19 vaccines. I was disappointed to hear that Canada is among some of the high-income countries blocking a patent-waiver proposal which would boost vaccine production and minimize COVID vaccine inequality. Around 100 countries, led by India and South Africa, are asking World Trade Organization members to approve lifting COVID-19 related intellectual property (IP) rights. They argue that vaccine suppliers should share their knowledge so other countries can start producing vaccines for their own population and low-income nations. I could not agree more.

This pandemic is not a competition between pharmaceutical companies. The lives of others (particularly people living in low-income nations) should not be sacrificed for these companies to gain more in profits. Refusing to waive vaccine related patents will likely cause millions of preventable deaths and will prolong the pandemic.

Biolyse is a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Canada and one of many manufacturers willing and ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines. They proposed making 20 million doses if provided with the recipe to do so. They have approached AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson who both declined. Biolyse eventually turned to the Canadian government to help with compulsory licensing only for federal officials to say that Canadian companies including Biolyse are too small to be of interest to major manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines.

The campaign for the temporary IP waiver is called the People’s Vaccine and is backed by non-governmental organizations and the United Nations’ HIV/AIDS agency, UNAIDS. People’s Vaccine stresses that many companies have already profited billions of dollars in public funding, through research and development and advance purchase agreements.

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