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Novavax on Friday criticized an Indian proposal to waive intellectual property (IP) rights for covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying such a move would undermine efforts by vaccine developers for equitable access to inoculation.

“The WTO TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver and similar proposals to weaken IP protection would not achieve equitable vaccine access, and instead has the very real potential to undermine Novavax’s ability to fulfil our commitment," the US company said in a statement.

Novavax was referring to an advance purchase agreement it and its partner, Serum Institute of India (SII), had signed with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, on Thursday to supply a cumulative 1.1 billion doses of its protein subunit covid-19 vaccine to the Covax facility, when it receives an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization. Of the total doses, Novavax will supply 350 million starting July-September, while Serum Institute will manufacture and deliver the rest.

As per the partnership with Novavax, SII will produce the vaccine as Covovax, and sell it in India and overseas.

Novavax said vaccine manufacturing relies upon access to limited raw materials and consumables, strong partnerships with capable manufacturers and free movement of supplies and vaccines between countries—all of which would be constrained by a TRIPS waiver.

“A TRIPS waiver could further constrain resources by diverting them to entities incapable of manufacturing safe and effective vaccines in the near term. A TRIPS waiver could also undermine existing partnerships and would not promote timely capacity-building," the company said, adding that a waiver could also increase national barriers to the free flow of materials and vaccine doses.

To be sure, even though a TRIPS waiver is not in place, SII has so far been unable to start at-risk production of Covovax because the company has been unable to secure crucial raw materials from the US due to restrictions placed by the government there through the invocation of the Defence Production Act in February.

Novavax’s statement comes two days after the US government said it would support a joint proposal by India and South Africa at the WTO for a waiver on IP on medical tools, but only for vaccines. France also supports the waiver proposal.

In October, India and South Africa jointly made a proposal to the WTO’s Council for TRIPS to adopt a waiver on patents and other related barriers on diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for covid for the duration of the pandemic.

Vaccine manufacturers and experts said that a TRIPS waiver is unlikely to help increase production and supply if there is no transfer of technology from the innovator firm.

Vaccine developers such as Novavax and Pfizer as well as developed countries such as the European Union, UK, Australia and Japan have been opposed to a TRIPS waiver on vaccines and other covid-19 medical tools, saying that it would hamper innovation. However, there is increasing pressure from civil society and activist groups in favour of a waiver during the pandemic as it would help poorer countries combat the coronavirus.

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