The race is on around the world for a COVID-19 vaccine

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  Last updated June 25, 2020 at 2:01 pm

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As the world races to find an effective COVID-19 vaccine, there are questions around just how effectively countries can work together.





Why This Matters: Teamwork makes the dream work.




While the Trump administration trumpets Operation Warp Speed’s search for a COVID-19 vaccine, it is unwilling to collaborate with the world’s scientists who share their COVID-19 findings and have pledged to make a vaccine affordable and accessible for everyone.


An Australian expert has said that the US is badly out of step with global collaboration on COVID-19 vaccine, and some pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to join global initiatives. This is despite a push from Australia, NZ and Germany’s leaders to make COVID-19 vaccine affordable & accessible to all.


According to Intellectual Property Professor Matthew Rimmer from the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology, there is a concern that the US would take an “America First” approach to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.


“This stance would go against the global tide of co-operation and collaboration of countries, institutions, companies and international organisations in the COVID-19 battle,” says Rimmer, who is an expert on access to essential medicines.




Also: Open science: after COVID-19 there can be no return to closed working




Only a global solution will overcome the pandemic


“Everywhere we see calls to make a safe, effective vaccine available to everyone at an affordable cost.”


“Australia and New Zealand have played a productive, diplomatic role in encouraging co-operative efforts in COVID-19 research.


Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls for development of ‘a safe vaccine, available to all, affordable to all’ and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says ‘we will advocate for universal access for any treatments and vaccines’.”


It’s a sentiment that has been echoed by the rest of the world with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying “only a global solution will overcome the pandemic. This is a test of our generation’s kindness.”


Rimmer says the World Health Organisation (WHO) had set up the ACT Accelerator, a global collaboration to hasten development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 technologies.


The Medicines Patent Pool has expanded its mandate to include COVID-19 related technologies and WHO and Costa Rica have established a COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.




Also: COVID-19 will majorly reshape economies and how countries work together




“Some pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology developers, however, have been unwilling to join this voluntary initiative.”


Universities and public research organisations have also played a key role in developing vaccines and treatments.


Stanford University and several others are engaged in public sector licensing of intellectual property (IP) for the purpose of making products to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19 during the pandemic,”  Rimmer says.


Universities Allied for Essential Research have called upon public research institutions to ‘free the vaccine’.


“Even companies such as HP Enterprises, Intel, IBM, Amazon, Facebook and Uber have taken the Open COVID-19  Pledge to make their IP available free of charge for use in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimising the impact of the disease.”


We need to learn lessons from past epidemics


According to Rimmer, the world’s reaction to the pandemic was testing the strengths, limits and flexibilities of patent law.


“While providing exclusive rights to novel, useful inventions, patent law also provides for mechanisms to allow for public access to inventions to enable technology transfer, promote public health and support competition,” he says.


“We need to learn from past history of unruly competition and rent-seeking in therapies for other epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, SARS, bird and swine ‘flus and collaborate.


“Canada, Israel, Ecuador, Chile and Germany among others have indicated they would allow compulsory licensing during the pandemic if needed.


“Similarly, Australia has warned it would use its crown use powers if patent inventors engaged in profiteering from essential inventions.


“Both the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement and Doha Declaration allow nations to use patent flexibilities such as compulsory licensing and crown use to address public health epidemics.”


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