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How amending IPRs for vaccines could help India

Mumbai, India - Up to 30 April, India administered 149.32 million doses (123.84 million Dose 1 and 25.48 million Dose 2) (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)Premium
Mumbai, India - Up to 30 April, India administered 149.32 million doses (123.84 million Dose 1 and 25.48 million Dose 2) (Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)

As the second wave of covid-19 rages in India, it is essential to speed up vaccinations. With universal adult vaccination involving states and the private sector starting on 1 May, there is a big likelihood of vaccine shortage. Mint explains the context and the way forward.

What is the cause of the likely shortage?

Up to 30 April, India administered 149.32 million doses (123.84 million Dose 1 and 25.48 million Dose 2). Effective 1 May, opening up of vaccines for everyone above 18 and for achieving universal vaccination India requires 1,878 million doses at the rate of two doses per person (approximately 939 million adults). However, India has only two vaccines, one locally developed and another with a licence. These two manufacturers can make 80-90 million doses per month, which may expand to approximately 160 million doses per month by July; hence, a demand supply gap is foreseen.

Effective 1 May, opening up of vaccines for everyone above 18 and for achieving universal vaccination India requires 1,878 million doses at the rate of two doses per person
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Effective 1 May, opening up of vaccines for everyone above 18 and for achieving universal vaccination India requires 1,878 million doses at the rate of two doses per person

What are Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)?

Members the World Trade Organization (WTO) have agreed to provide patent protection for any invention, be it a product (say, a medicine) or a process (method of producing it). Previously, the IPRs of products used to be protected through the Process Patent under Indian Patent Act, 1970, allowing the manufacture of a patented product by others by a different process. This is how Indian medicines once were the cheapest until the WTO regime in the mid-1990s. Currently, the WTO’s strict patent rules prevent firms other than the inventor from manufacturing the same product using a different process.

What is the economic significance of vaccination?

Vaccination may not end the pandemic, but has a big impact on human psychology. Despite supportive fiscal and monetary policies, India’s economy is yet to return to normalcy due to both demand and supply constraints. Behavioural factors have been impacting both sides and the vaccine, by reducing the number and severity of cases, is expected to have a positive impact.

How will licensing provisions help?

Given limited domestic capacity, it is advisable to involve other drugmakers in vaccine manufacturing by invoking the compulsory licensing provision under the original Indian Patent Act, which has become defunct since mid 1990s. The government should invoke the provision to allow other manufacturer to produce the patented product or use the process without the permission of the patent-owner. The licence can be given to another manufacturer as the society’s right is predominant.

What’s the alternative at the level of WTO?

With every country suffering, pressure should be built upon the WTO so that original promoters of the product patent idea should be persuaded to relax patent norms in view of the crisis, with a condition that the vaccines would strictly be used for domestic use and cannot be exported without the approval or involvement of the original patent holder. This would help ensure that universal vaccination against the virus is completed at the earliest.

Jagadish Shettigar and Pooja Misra are faculty members at BIMTECH

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