From Bangladesh to Vietnam, the global south has the capacity to produce Covid-19 vaccines

From Bangladesh to Vietnam, the global south has the capacity to produce Covid-19 vaccines

10 June 2021

“There’s no point in giving somebody a recipe if they don’t have the kitchen or the cooking skills or the ingredients.”

These were the words of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last month as he claimed that very few countries in the global south had the infrastructural know-how or materials to make Covid-19 vaccines.

This is simply not true.

Companies in Bangladesh and Pakistan are among a group of firms that have unsuccessfully tried to obtain the rights to increase production of Covid-19 vaccines. In fact, Knowledge Ecology International has identified at least 144 manufacturing facilities in 35 countries that could potentially be used to manufacture these vaccines – if we had an open system with distributed manufacturing and technology transfer, and intellectual property (IP) was waived.

Furthermore, there are already manufacturers making safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines and medicines in Brazil, India and South Africa.

Photo: Nataliya Vaitkevich

The EU, among others, have been stalling negotiations on the trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) since October 2020, when a proposal was first put forward by South Africa and India.

While the EU continues to oppose the TRIPS waiver at the WTO, today the European Parliament supported an amendment calling for Europe to support the temporary suspension of intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

Waiving IP is not the only step, but it is essential. Producing a vaccine is a complex process and requires access to IP, but also direct transfer of technology, knowledge, and – in some cases – materials.

More than a year ago, the World Health Organisation created the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, and invited vaccine producers to collaborate to meet the enormous global need for Covid vaccines, an approach recently supported by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs. So far, however, vaccine-makers have refused to engage with C-TAP.

Witnessing this reluctance originally prompted South Africa and India to propose the TRIPS waiver, which is now supported by over 100 countries. They are seeking more forceful legal measures to gain access to IP related to life-saving technologies. After all, the global pandemic is far from over.

Almost 100,000 people are dying of this virus every week in countries without sufficient access to the vaccine. Just 0.2 percent of the vaccines distributed so far have gone to low-income countries.

To win the race against Covid-19 and its new variants, the whole world needs to be vaccinated.

That is why we, along with a number of other organisations, have proposed that a relevant Oireachtas committee undertake an urgent detailed review of Ireland’s position on the TRIPS waiver.

As Ireland and the EU begins to see the benefits of mass vaccination, we cannot stand in the way of the world’s poorest being given the same access to life-saving medicine.

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