Covid-19: Vaccine industry and activists at odds over Trips waiver

Industry says waiver of IP rights not needed as vaccine supply far outweighs demand

Covid vaccines are being produced faster than they can be administered, according to the industry, which argues that waiving intellectual property rights will not accelerate global Covid-19 vaccine access.

However, campaigners for a Trips waiver, which would temporarily set aside those IP rights, say diversity of supply is necessary to address both Covid and future pandemics.

Both sides will appear on Wednesday before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment as it examines waiving intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines.

Oxfam chief executive Jim Clarken, who also represents the People's Vaccine Alliance Ireland, will tell the committee that Ireland's continued opposition to the Trips waiver "is in contravention of Ireland's human rights obligations and it is greatly damaging Ireland's international reputation as a champion of low-income countries".


Save lives

“It’s time Ireland supported the Trips waiver, helped save millions of lives and put an end to this pandemic,” he will say.

However, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry say there is no need for such a waiver.

"Production is not the problem. There are already more than enough vaccines for the world. The problem is they are not getting to the people who most need them fast enough," Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association chief executive Oliver O'Connor will say.

He says 12 million doses of Covid vaccine had been produced by the end of January but only 10 billion had been administered.

Mr Clarken points to comment s by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the end of last year that aggressive efforts to provide boosters to adult populations and to children in richer countries will lead to a three billion shortfall in Covid vaccine shots in poorer parts of the world.


However, the industry argues that those figures are out of date and that the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention itself has asked that all Covid-19 vaccine donations be paused until later this year because hesitancy and logistical hurdles across the continent are hampering administration.

Both sides are quoting the WHO and its Irish director, Dr Mike Ryan, in support of their positions.

NUI Maynooth law professor Aisling McMahon, who is also addressing the committee, will tell members that while a waiver "is not a panacea, it would nonetheless clear IP hurdles, acting as a key step to increase global vaccine production".

“More specifically, it would be a key step to enable low- and middle-income countries to develop sustainable long-term solutions to vaccine supply issues where the status quo model under Trips has simply failed such countries. In doing so, it would help build resilience for future pandemic preparedness,” she will say.

The vaccine industry’s case is that getting vaccines or other medicines quickly and in an equitable manner to populations globally and the protection of intellectual property rights “are not mutually exclusive” but are complementary.

“To thrive, innovation depends on intellectual property protection. It is the certainty that shields the risky business of investing in research and development. Most of it fails. The global patents system is the basis for innovation. The proposed Trips waiver is a serious risk to the global patents system,” Mr O’Connor says.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times