Global pharmaceutical companies have berated South Africa and India’s efforts to waive certain Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights which, the countries say, could ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines.

  • PhRMA, an organisation representing leading biopharmaceutical companies, has written to US President Joe Biden to persuade him to continue his opposition to the Trips waiver.
  • In the letter, signed by 31 pharmaceutical companies, PhRMA says South Africa and India have argued for the waiver “without evidence”.
  • South Africa and India seek to waive certain property rights tied to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments through the Trips waiver at the WTO.

Global pharmaceutical companies have berated South Africa and India’s efforts to waive certain Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which, the countries say, could ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and other medical supplies.
READ | SA accuses states opposed to vaccine patent waiver of being pressurised by big pharma
The criticism was detailed in a letter to United States President Joe Biden on 5 March and was signed by some of the globe’s leading pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and 28 others.
While President Cyril Ramaphosa has been outspoken on waiving certain intellectual property (IP) rights tied to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, PhRMA, an organisation representing leading biopharmaceutical research companies, said South Africa and India had argued for the waiver “without evidence”.
South Africa and India had approached the WTO to suspend IP rights, including copyrights, industrial designs, patents and trade secrets on Covid-19 innovations until there is mass vaccinations globally, the letter explained.
This, according to experts, could see greater global access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
But, according to PhRMA, “in requesting the waiver, India and South Africa argued without evidence that intellectual property is hindering the global response to the pandemic and that the waiver would help scale up research, development, manufacturing and supply of needed products”.
“The US government has stood alongside other governments – including the European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Brazil, and Norway – to oppose this waiver. We urge your [Biden’s] administration to maintain this longstanding support for innovation and American jobs by continuing to oppose the TRIPS IP waiver,” PhRMA stated.
READ MORE | The Big Picture: South Africa and the Global South’s battle for Covid-19 vaccine justice
While some pharmaceutical companies who are producing and manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine have struggled to meet demand, PhRMA told Biden these challenges are being dealt with through partnerships and licencing agreements, saying the production of a vaccine was complex.
“As you [Biden] and your team know, developing and manufacturing safe and effective vaccines consistently on a global scale is a massive undertaking. Covid-19 vaccines are complex biologic products. The manufacturing requires specialised experience, expertise and equipment.
“For example, only a few facilities in the world perform some of the critical steps needed to manufacture mRNA vaccines,” PhRMA said.
It took the opposite stance to South Africa and other countries advocating for the waiver, saying intellectual property (IP) rights are actually essential to speeding up research and development of treatments and vaccines.
“Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic, including ongoing effort to tackle new variants, create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety, and create a barrier to information sharing.
“Most importantly, eliminating protections would not speed up production,” the letter read.
Ramaphosa has previously called on other countries to support the Trips waiver, saying it would make vaccines more affordable.
Do you want to know more about this topic? Sign up for one of News24’s 33 newsletters to receive the information you want in your inbox. Special newsletters are available to subscribers.